Committee (7th Day)
Relevant documents: 24th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee
178C: After Clause 77, insert the following new Clause—
“Amendments to constitutional arrangements of statutory bodies consequential on electoral changes(1) Section 67 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (consequential and supplementary provision) is amended as follows.(2) After subsection (2) insert—“(2A) The purposes for which an order may be made under subsection (2) include making changes to the constitutional arrangements of any statutory body with a locally or regionally defined remit which are required as a consequence of the making of an Order under section 59.(2B) An order under subsection (2) made for the purposes described in subsection (2A) may be made by the statutory body in question as well as by the Secretary of State.” (3) In subsection (5), at the beginning insert “Subject to subsection (6),”(4) In subsection (6), for “containing any other order under subsection (2)” substitute “containing an order under subsection (2) made for the purposes described in subsection (2A) (even if it also falls within subsection (5)) or containing any other order under subsection (2) that does not fall within subsection (5)”.(5) After subsection (6) insert—“(7) In this section, “statutory body” means a body established by or under any enactment.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would enable an order to be made to alter the constitutional arrangements of a statutory body if required as a consequence of an electoral changes order made under the local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. The statutory body itself would be able to make such an order.
My Lords, this amendment adds a new clause after Clause 77 and amends Section 67 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. It deals with constitutional arrangements of statutory bodies consequential on electoral changes. In essence, it provides for an order to be made to alter the constitutional arrangements of a statutory body if required as a consequence of an electoral change, and the order can be made under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. The important thing is that the statutory body itself would be able to make such an order.
I will briefly give some illustrative explanation as to why this is required. The amendment deals with an old constitutional anomaly that can arise when boundaries are redrawn following Electoral Commission reports. One such example is the case of local ward boundary changes for Malvern Hills District Council and the consequential impact on the Malvern Hills Trust, which has elected conservators and is charged with protecting and managing the Malvern Hills and the surrounding commons. The Boundary Commission has changed the Malvern Hills District Council ward boundaries. As a result we will have two wards, with some residents who can vote for conservators and pay the levy while others cannot. This is not an ideal situation, and will probably be subject to judicial review and legal challenge for the returning officer as a consequence. This amendment would allow for the changes to be brought about by the Malvern Hills Trust, and it would bring its boundaries in line with the district lines.
In moving this amendment, I declare an interest: I am a resident of Malvern Hills District Council, and my late father-in-law was a Malvern Hills conservator.
My Lords, I support the noble Baroness. The Malvern Hills are of course an outstanding place of beauty in the West Midlands, and it is important that the trust is allowed to do its job as effectively as possible. This is yet another example of the way in which the Boundary Commission has been forced do its work, because of the constraints put upon it, where it goes across natural boundaries. In the case that the noble Baroness raised, the management of the Malvern Hills Trust is vital. It is also clearly important that residents have confidence in the arrangements of the trust and in the fairness of any levies they may have to pay. I hope that the Minister may be prepared to take a look at this and possibly come back on Report with a sympathetic response.
My Lords, I am grateful. The problem has a wider resonance than the Malvern Hills Trust, although that is important. Coterminosity of local government and parliamentary boundaries is important, as is coterminosity of local government and National Health Service boundaries and, in this case, of the integrated care boards. If the Minister has any influence in other government departments, I ask her to impress on them the significance of residents who may be split between integrated care boards, like residents where I live in the Kirklees district of West Yorkshire, who are now being moved into a new Wakefield parliamentary constituency. This creates more problems than we sometimes recognise. Coterminosity and looking at the local implications of the lines we draw on a map are important and ought to be done only following detailed consultation with local people.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this to our attention. As she knows, I know the Malvern Hills area very well; it is beautiful. It is important that the Boundary Commission respects local boundaries and allows organisations such as the Malvern Hills Trust to operate as they are intended.
Does the Minister agree that one problem we have at the moment is that the Boundary Commission cannot carry out interim or minor reviews, as it simply does not have the resources to do so? That means that any kind of review could take up to 20 years to look at a problem or something that is not ideal, which is clearly not an ideal situation. Perhaps the department could look into this.
My Lords, Amendments 178C and 509ZA, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart of Edgbaston, seek to enable any statutory body to amend by order its constitutional arrangements consequential on an electoral changes order made under Part 3 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. That legislation enables the Local Government Boundary Commission for England to implement by order recommendations for changes to an area’s electoral arrangements.
I am aware of the specific case at the moment where such a statutory body, the Malvern Hills Trust, considers that the new warding arrangements established by an electoral review order in respect of Malvern Hills District Council is incompatible with its constitutional and governance arrangements as provided for in several private Acts dating back to 1884. It is understandably concerned that such changes might raise questions about the ongoing legality of its constitutional and governance arrangements, and it wishes for something that it can address itself in a timely way.
I fully understand why the Malvern Hills Trust might wish to be granted powers to alter the constitutional or governance arrangements to ensure that they remain lawful and relevant to changing circumstances. However, I regret that we cannot support the amendments to the Bill. While they have the intention to resolve a specific local constitutional issue, the amendments are of general application to any statutory body affected by an electoral review carried out under Part 3 of the 2009 Act. In a practical sense, it is difficult for us to estimate how many bodies may be affected and wish to pass orders of this sort, or the impact on parliamentary time in dealing with them.
As drafted, the amendments would allow for secondary legislation to make amendments to primary legislation using the negative resolution procedure—the lower level of parliamentary scrutiny—and we do not think that this is appropriate. If the amendments were redrafted so that the orders were subject to the affirmative procedure, the potential would remain for significant impact on parliamentary business and on getting vital government business done.
More fundamentally, we cannot accept that it is right or prudent for the Bill to contain provision to allow for non-governmental bodies to be able to make orders that would amend primary legislation, as is the intention of the amendments. That must rightly be the role of government Ministers, except in exceptional circumstances, as with the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.
The commission is a parliamentary body accountable to the Speaker’s Committee. Such powers are appropriate in the case of the commission, given its status and vital independent role in ensuring fairness and confidence in the local government electoral system. Even if the scope of the amendment were narrowed so that any order could be made only by the Secretary of State, I am afraid that we could not accept it. While I understand that the purpose is to have a provision of general application, the concept used of the statutory body seems to be unclear. For example, does the definition of a statutory body include a local authority? On the face of it, this seems to be the case. If this is so, introducing this new provision would potentially create—
If the noble Lord can wait one minute, I shall say what the Government are prepared to do.
For all these reasons, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment—but the Government have been talking to senior officials of the trust to understand the issues that they face as a result of the electoral changes order. We have discussed various options that they can pursue, which include the Charity Commission making a scheme under Section 73 of the Charities Act 2011 and for the trust itself to pursue a private Bill to make the amendments that it thinks necessary. We are also exploring whether the Secretary of State has the vires to make an order in consequence of an electoral changes order, to amend or modify primary legislation, such as the Malvern Hills Act 1924. So we are working with the group. In realisation of that, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 178C withdrawn.
Schedule 5 agreed.
179: Before Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—
“Purpose of Planning(1) The purpose of planning is to ensure that the development of land balances long-term economic, social and environmental benefits, safeguards natural resources, and supports the needs of future generations in respect of land use.(2) When making relevant planning policy or development plans or granting planning permission for the development of land, all relevant planning authorities must have special regard to the need to—(a) contribute to the targets set out in—(i) Part 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 (UK net zero emissions target and budgeting);(ii) sections 1 to 3 of the Environment Act 2021 (environmental targets); and(b) adapt to any current or predicted impacts of climate change identified in the most recent report under section 56 of the Climate Change Act 2008.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause inserts a “purpose of planning” provision into the Bill. Currently, planning authorities are under no statutory obligation to take climate change into account in the determination of planning applications. This introduces a duty in relation to national and local planning policy and decisions.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 179 in my name, which inserts a purpose of planning provision into the Bill, as well as to Amendment 271, which inserts a duty relating to climate change in planning functions. I declare my interests as a director of Peers for the Planet and as a project director working for Atkins. I also thank my supporters, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
What is really important about these amendments is the need to better enable local authorities and give them the tools that they need to work towards our net-zero and environmental targets. For me, this is one of the key missing links in the whole governance system for net zero and the environment. We have lots of top-level policy from the Government but little guidance or direction for local authorities so that they can play their role. We have many local authorities that really want to play their part but do not have the tools or resources to do so, whether in energy planning or the wider planning system. What this leads to is an inconsistent approach and a patchwork quilt of responses across the many local authorities in their approach to the environment and net zero.
The Skidmore review looked into this area in detail, and it is worth quoting briefly what it stated. It said:
“One of the starkest messages from hundreds of organisations and individuals is that the planning system is undermining net zero and the economic opportunities that come with it. The Review recommends wide-ranging local planning reform—from the introduction of a net zero test to a rapid review of bottlenecks in the system—to ensure that it is fully aligned with our net zero future”.
The resulting action on implementing a net zero test was in its 25 key recommendations by 2025. That is the level of importance here in the wider net zero picture. I also note that the Climate Change Committee said, in its progress report to Parliament last year:
“Net Zero and climate resilience should be embedded within the planning reforms that are expected as part of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill”.
The lack of a net zero test is having an impact right now. For example, there is the case of a major solar farm on 75 hectares of land near where I live in Derbyshire. The project involved the production of around 50 megawatts of renewable energy, sufficient for around 13,000 homes or more than 22% of all Amber Valley borough’s households. In December 2022, a planning inspector refused permission on appeal, on the grounds that the project would harm the landscape, character and visual amenity. This case highlights that fact that, in the contribution that the project makes, the delivery of net zero may not always be given sufficient weight and priority, which would be resolved by a net-zero test running through the whole planning system.
My Amendment 179 would resolve this by introducing a “purpose of planning” provision into the Bill; namely, a duty for national and local policy decisions to reference the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Environment Act 2021. Amendment 271 is a scaled-back amendment that could also be considered by the Government. It would amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to ensure that climate change is given special regard in individual development proposals.
The Government may make the point that this is considered in the non-statutory National Planning Policy Framework—the NPPF—and that this will be updated as part of the current consultation. Although I welcome the commitments made in that consultation, first, the NPPF is non-statutory guidance and not legally binding and, secondly, no amendments are proposed in the current draft of the NPPF to ensure that climate change constitutes a material consideration in the determination of individual planning applications.
I welcomed the Minister’s commitment at Second Reading:
“The Government recognise the challenge of climate change. It is critical that the planning system must address this effectively”.
The Minister also highlighted that the Bill already includes some provisions whereby some strategies and plans
“must be designed to secure that the development and use of land … contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”.—[Official Report, 17/1/23; col. 1808.]
The words of the Minister and the existing provisions in the Bill are very welcome, but this is not the same as a clear net-zero test that links to our specific climate and environmental targets and permeates all planning decisions. In the same vein as this is the current statutory duty to contribute to the mitigation of and adaption to climate change in relation to development plan documents under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
Many years ago, I started my career as a systems engineer, helping to manage complex engineering projects and ensuring that the various elements were considered as a whole, rather than as disparate elements, which is essential for the success of any large project. Net zero is perhaps the ultimate systems problem that we have to deal with. I remember a meeting that I attended last year with Patrick Vallance, where he stated:
“This is a systems … problem. It affects virtually every part of every department and, therefore, you need to think of this as a systems approach”.
These amendments are in the same vein. Rather than the current piecemeal mentions of climate change and planning policy scattered throughout the legislation and the National Planning Policy Framework, this is a really good opportunity for the Government to update the Bill to fully embed these targets within statute and ensure that there is a coherent thread running through the whole planning system.
This is the prime opportunity to clarify in statute our planning system’s role in delivering on our climate change and environment targets and removing the ambiguities and inconsistencies of the current system. I hope that the Government will agree that now is the time to seize this legislative opportunity, because there will not be another in the short or medium term. Now is the time to act.
My Lords, I will speak next as I have an amendment in this group. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for his excellent speech on his amendments and for meeting with me and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to discuss the Bill. I was pleased that he mentioned Peers for the Planet; I am not yet a member of that group but I will be a very enthusiastic joiner. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has greatly encouraged me in that respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, spoke about giving local authorities the tools that they need. That is also an important part of my Amendment 179A in this group, which I will speak to. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, referred to the Skidmore review and the Climate Change Committee’s work—which are both crucial to his and my amendments in this group—and to having a net-zero test running through the planning system. That is absolutely crucial, and now is the opportunity to do just that.
We have spoken before about the fact that there are some key strategic omissions from the Bill. Ensuring that climate change is fundamentally enshrined in law in the planning process is one of the most critical. My amendment is designed to address this too, by including it as one of the key purposes of the planning process. Over 80% of councils have now declared a climate emergency, with a pledge to net zero sitting alongside that, so surely it is time that the Government and legislation caught up and helped provide the tools to do that. The amendments in this group are designed to set out: first, an overall purpose for the planning process; secondly, to make absolutely sure that that includes the sustainability of all development; and, thirdly, to ensure that every individual development proposal is assessed to ensure that it is part of the solution to climate change, not adding to the problem.
As far back as November 2021, the Local Government Association commissioned a wide-ranging report to show how critical the local contribution to climate change could be. There are many important contributions recorded in that report, including one from Richard Blyth, head of policy at the Royal Town Planning Institute, who said:
“Collectively local activity and investment (for example on housing, infrastructure, water management) will only contribute positively to the ambition to leave the environment in a better state if there is a shared spatial framework for improving local environments”.
He pointed out that the Environment Act could take this only so far, but some of the measures it contained risked adding to the piecemeal landscape of environmental plans without clear directions for economic decision-making. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, referred to the piecemeal approach that results from some of the provisions in the Environment Act. The only way of ensuring that a holistic approach is taken to environmental issues is to ensure that all the relevant issues are built into local plans and considered for each development, whether that is water, flooding, soil, air quality, transport, access to open spaces, biodiversity, energy, waste or the whole-life carbon impact of buildings. These should all be part of the consideration of planning.
Net zero can be achieved only if decarbonisation happens in every place, everywhere across the country. These amendments would incorporate in the Bill plans for an overarching clause that would do just that. At the moment, if the overarching framework of the national management development plan, whatever it contains in relation to net zero—I am probably not the only one in this Committee who fears that this will be nowhere near ambitious enough in response to the climate emergency—does not have a corresponding network of local plans setting out clearly how development will take a radically new and ambitious approach to this, we will, I fear, continue to move at the current snail’s pace.
Local plans also need to reflect the needs of mitigation of climate change. In a paper from the University of Strathclyde by Dr Hawker and Dr Wade, they say:
“In particular, local planning decisions around land use and infrastructure must be made with acknowledgement of their implications for living with climate change. For example, increasing green spaces can support drainage in urban areas, helping to alleviate future flood risks”.
We have seen some magnificent examples in recent years—for example, pocket parks in high streets, which help with flooding issues—but they are by no means common enough yet. Local authorities often hold large building portfolios, including social housing. If they can be supported with long-term future funding, they can take action now to ensure that properties are energy efficient and much more cost effective for residents.
At Second Reading in the other place, the Secretary of State’s contention was that proposals in the Bill would strengthen environmental protection. He explained that a National Planning Policy Framework document would be published in July—that is July last year—setting out how environmental outcomes were to be driven. As far as I know, that document has not yet been published by the department. So, while we await specific policies on specific aspects of tackling environmental outcomes, fundamentally writing climate change into both development planning and mitigation measures for the planning system of the future is the only way of ensuring that they reach every part of the UK. If we do not do so in this Bill, we will have missed a huge opportunity to align the planning system with the climate change goals that should be right at its heart.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 179 and 271 from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. I thank him very much for bringing them to your Lordships’ Committee. I will make three quick points.
First, I do not understand why the Government are not using this Bill as a vehicle to embed the approaches that they have signed up to on net zero and climate change targets more generally. Surely this is the ideal legislation to ensure that our planning system supports what the Government say they wish to do.
Secondly, the noble Lord quite rightly mentioned the Skidmore review, which is very telling, and we have also heard from the Climate Change Committee. However, the National Audit Office’s report should not be ignored. It said that
“there are serious weaknesses in central government’s approach to working with local authorities on decarbonisation, stemming from a lack of clarity over local authorities’ overall roles, piecemeal funding, and diffuse accountabilities”.
The Government need to listen to the National Audit Office, because that is based on its expertise in monitoring and evaluating what local authorities are doing and the confrontations they are having on some of these issues due to flaws in the current local planning system and arrangements.
Thirdly, my background is mainly in health, and there is no doubt that unlocking economic growth through planning reform, as was highlighted in the net zero review, could achieve real health benefits by fully aligning our planning system with climate change and nature targets. The point has been made by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, which says that a healthy neighbourhood can also be a powerful levelling-up tool, leading to better mental and physical health and well-being outcomes through active travel, social connectivity and access to green spaces. Statistics published by the UN only a few days ago show that life expectancy in this country has deteriorated dramatically in comparison with many other countries since the 1950s. We were then one of the top countries for life expectancy; now we are in danger of dropping out of the top 30.
There is such a persuasive argument for tying in strong public preventive health with what must be done on climate change and net zero. Surely the planning system is one of the most powerful levers that we can use to make it happen. I hope we will come back to this very important matter on Report.
My Lords, I was thrilled to add my name to my noble friend Lord Ravensdale’s Amendments 179 and 271. It is seriously important to make sure that the planning system is aligned with our climate and nature targets; this also goes to the heart of whether we will meet our net-zero targets. Currently, our planning system is not doing enough, yet it is one of the most important single levers we have.
All too often we see the degradation of natural habitats caused by housing and other infrastructure, from high-carbon development being approved to homes being built that will later require expensive retrofits. The Environment and Climate Change Committee has just done a report showing how expensive and difficult that process is. It could all be solved in one go. Natural England commented to our inquiry that nature and climate are at risk of further and irreparable damage from a range of pressures, including the need for new housing, which is currently not up to scratch.
It is welcome that the Government are currently consulting on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework to make sure that it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible, but it is only guidance. Government must send a strong message about the importance it places on achieving our climate and nature targets.
Fully embedding climate and nature within planning also brings, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out, great outcomes through green jobs, sustainable economic growth, improved health and well-being, helping to reduce the cost of living in lots of instances and making us more resilient to extreme weather. It is extraordinary that we still build houses in known flood zones; those will only get worse, not better.
At the local authority level, most local plans do not contain any comprehensive or robust policies on climate change mitigation or adaptation, yet lots of local authorities want just that. At the individual decision-making level, ambitious local councils often have their plans refused by the Planning Inspectorate because we have a completely unaligned system. It does not work as a thought-through process from beginning to end, but the Bill provides the perfect opportunity to address this gap.
Amendment 179 would add a net-zero and nature test to all planning decisions. It would apply not just to big decisions but to little ones as well. To quote again—as the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, did—from the Skidmore review:
“the vision of the planning system on net zero is not clear”;
“A system that appears ambivalent to net zero
and therefore incapable of delivering the change that we need. That could not have been put more clearly, and is from a review that the Government themselves commissioned.
The Government commented in their recently published consultation on the proposed environmental outcome reports that:
“These reforms will deliver a streamlined system which works for everyone and delivers better environmental outcomes”.
The consultation also notes:
“We want to ensure we break the cycle where developments struggle to reflect how they address matters that are of national and global scale and importance.”
What better way to do this than through these amendments? This could work cohesively with the environmental outcome reports, which the Government have said will
“amplify government initiatives such as Biodiversity Net Gain and Local Nature Recovery Strategies.”
There is simply too much scope for inconsistency in the current system. This is a critical decade, as was pointed out in the IPCC report this week. The Government have to be clear that all developments must have at their heart a special regard—a legal regard—to the need to contribute towards net zero. This net-zero test will shift us closer to climate-positive and nature-positive development. I hope the Minister will agree.
My Lords, I think we all know that the planning system does not function very well at the moment. It has become more and more complex over the decades, and is now a morass of rules that many of us do not understand. The Bill is an opportunity for a lot of things, but it is an opportunity to put that right and make sure that, as other noble Lords have said, the planning process actually works for people, residents and communities and is not just made up of rules that make no sense anymore. We can use it to make sustainable, healthy communities—why on earth would anybody disagree with that?
I know that some people deny that climate change is happening, and I am sure there are some who think that the IPCC report is not worth taking into serious consideration. But, of course, a lot of people in Britain are incredibly anxious. As we have seen, houses are still being built on flood plains and in ludicrous places where they will be damaged and probably will not be able to get insurance.
One of the lessons from Covid was that people do better when they are out in nature, so we need to include green spaces and that sort of environment to allow people to exercise, walk, and be with their dogs and their children.
One of the things I found when I was on a local planning committee when I was a councillor—for four very long and hard years—is that the officers abide by the rules. You can be as green as you like as a councillor, but that comes to absolutely nothing if you run up against the rules. Officers know the rules, and they insist that we act by them, so we need strong rules and good clear guidance.
In the other place at the moment, a former Prime Minister is struggling to keep his temper, apparently, as he discusses rules and guidance, what he knew and did not know, and so on. We should not do what we did during Covid and have a whole collection of quite confused rules, guidance, recommendations and even advice. We should make this clear and make the planning system fit for the sort of country we want to be.
Of course, if we want to take pressure off the National Health Service, we should be thinking about everybody’s well-being and about how everybody lives. At the moment, the planning system is not fit for purpose. I completely support all these amendments and agree with everything that has been said so far.
My Lords, although perhaps I would not want to align myself with my friend’s sentiments about the complexity of the Covid rules currently being examined at the other end, I support this group of amendments.
Net zero and adaptation to the impacts of climate change are getting more and more difficult because they are more and more pressing. We have to deploy every tool in the toolbox, and the planning system is a pretty powerful tool if it is properly pointed. It is true to say that the National Planning Policy Framework requires local authorities to address climate change, but when push comes to shove, housing targets tend to get the upper hand. If a local authority lays stringent requirements on developers about net zero or adaptation to the impacts of climate change, the viability test immediately gets rolled out, as well as challenges about developments being not viable under the rules that the local authority is laying down. Local authorities have to have some sort of protection against that kind of challenge, by being able to point to strong guidance and a statutory requirement to deliver net zero and adaptation to climate change.
As my noble friend on our Front Bench said, it is good that a large number of local authorities have declared a climate emergency, but they now need help to make that reality. There are already a few hooks in planning legislation that local authorities ought to be able to rely on, but they are clearly not sufficient because planning inspectors are overturning development proposals and local plans on the basis that the planning authorities have gone too far. We have to make sure that they are not going to be subject to those sorts of local challenges for doing the things that need to be done to tackle this emergency.
These amendments have some considerable strength. As has been said, they deal not just with plans but with planning policy, and indeed with individual applications. They talk not just about net zero but about the very real need for local planning authorities to take pretty stringent steps to ensure that there is adequate adaptation to climate change on a local basis.
If noble Lords really want to break their hearts some evening, they should go and read the successive reports of the Adaptation Committee of the Climate Change Committee, very nobly chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, who is not in her place. It would break your heart to see how little progress we have made in making our local settlements, infrastructure, and other important things for the quality of life and of the economy in this country resilient in the face of climate change. We really have to get a grip of that one.
Other excellent features of the amendments are that they cover climate change and nature, and are about mitigation actions, as well as adaptation. It would be extremely helpful to planning authorities, developers, and those who care about climate change and climate adaptation for these amendments, or some variant of them, to be accepted at Report.
My Lords, I support these amendments and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for bringing them in front of noble Lords today. I want to focus on just one aspect of this. It is about not just whether the Government agree to these amendments and facilitate all the action which noble Lords have already spoken about but whether they back away from the current position, which is putting a ceiling on the ambition of local planning authorities in achieving net zero, and indeed in trying to set a purpose that is in any way in alignment with the nationally set targets of getting to zero carbon by 2050.
Many local authorities are straining at the leash to make their communities zero carbon and to ensure that they take steps to protect the well-being of their residents from flooding and extreme weather events, and from the costs and harm that they can see happening now and foresee coming in the coming decade or two if they do not take vigorous action to tackle climate change and mitigate the worst consequences of it. Unfortunately, time and again, via the Planning Inspectorate or government pronouncements, local planning authorities are prevented from taking those actions by the imposition of a national framework which is not in alignment with the equally national statutory framework to reach zero carbon by 2050.
If the Minister feels that, somehow or other, the formulation of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, is not the right one, that is fine, but can she, in the first instance, say that she and her Government will not continue to deliberately suppress the ambition of local authorities to achieve that national target and come forward herself, or encourage her Government to come forward, with a way to facilitate progress along the lines the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, has so well set out today?
My Lords, I totally agree with the amendments in this group and thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for bringing our attention to this issue before we start addressing the clauses that concern national and local planning policy.
Strategic planning depends and rests on planning legislation such as this and on national and local planning policies. We need to provide the tools in planning legislation and at national planning policy level to produce the focus and levers that we require at local level to pursue net zero—which I have not heard a voice against in this debate so far. We all know how important it is, but we need the levers and tools at local level to achieve it.
That is not going to be as simple as it sounds. Planning is a forward-looking approach: it is for new development or change to old development and does not do as much for the existing built environment. I hope that when we discuss the national management development policies the Government will indicate where they will provide a strong policy in favour of achieving net zero through planning legislation and policy. Currently, the National Planning Policy Framework has the goal of
“presumption in favour of sustainable development”,
which is about 10 to 15 years old, and it was the start of the journey towards achieving a firm commitment to tackling climate change and achieving the Government’s aims of zero carbon by 2050. We need a step change in planning policy if we are to achieve that. Unfortunately for the Government, the tools they put in planning legislation and policies are cross-departmental if they are going to achieve anything.
For example, housing development requires highways infrastructure. Is such infrastructure going to enable more traffic? Even if we have transferred to electric-generated vehicles, that will still create considerable carbon emissions, both in the production of the vehicles and in the production of the electricity, for the foreseeable future. What is the policy going to be there?
What is the policy going to be around renewable generation in respect of domestic properties? The Government could have a policy on that; currently, there is not one. What is the policy going to be around balancing the use of land for housing or economic development and, for instance, green infrastructure and biodiversity? The policies currently within the NPPF and planning legislation provide some clues, but they are guidance rather than requirements.
Then there are issues such as water management. That concerns not just flooding; for instance, areas of the south-east will not be able to sustain more housing development because of the lack of a water supply. Where is the big policy on water management, including water supply and wastewater? Where is that going to feature in our planning policies?
The difficulty here—this is where I am slipping over into a future debate on the national development management plan—is that this area is currently an empty space in legislation. If the Minister is able to fill that empty space with clear indications that climate change will be at the heart of national planning legislation and policy, we will have achieved the aim of the amendment in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and others, with which I wholeheartedly agree.
My Lords, Amendments 179 and 271 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, seek to introduce a duty for planning authorities to consider climate change when developing planning policy and in making planning application decisions by adding a “purpose of planning” provision to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and a complementary duty in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
The Government recognise the great challenge of climate change and that the planning system must address this effectively. Through the Climate Change Act 2008, the Government have committed to reduce net emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels by 2050. We have also committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it. We passed the Environment Act, which sets ambitious, legally binding, long-term targets to restore nature. The Government published their second environmental improvement plan in January this year, setting out the actions that will drive us towards reaching our long-term targets and goals.
Section 19(1A) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 already sets out that local planning authorities must design their local plans
“to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority’s area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”.
This is restated in the Bill and is found in proposed new Section 15C of the 2004 Act, to be inserted by Schedule 7 to this Bill. Similar requirements are included for other types of plans, such as waste and mineral plans and neighbourhood plans.
Alongside this, the National Planning Policy Framework is clear that planning policies and decisions should support climate change mitigation and adaptation, and that plans should be prepared in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008. The framework also makes it clear that plans and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment more broadly. As a matter of law, the framework must be taken into account when preparing the development plan and is a material consideration in planning decisions. Its effect on decisions will be enhanced through this Bill, through the provision made for a suite of national development management policies that will have statutory force.
More broadly, the National Planning Policy Frame- work couches the role of the planning system quite firmly in the terms of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development, recognising the environmental, social and economic dimensions of this and the inter- dependencies between them. It is not clear that a statutory purpose for planning would add to this in any meaningful way. We recognise that more can be achieved, though, and that is why the Government recently consulted on immediate changes to the framework relating to renewable energy and sought views on carbon assessments and other changes, which would strengthen the framework’s role in this vital area. A full review of the framework, taking the responses to this consultation into account, will take place following Royal Assent, and we will review the strategic objectives set out in the planning policy to ensure that they support the Government’s environmental targets under the Environment Act, the net zero strategy and the national adaptation programme.
A number of noble Lords mentioned the Skidmore review. We will publish a response to it very shortly. As committed to in the net zero strategy, we intend to do a fuller review of the NPPF to ensure that it contributes to climate change mitigation. Therefore, while I appreciate the spirit of these amendments, the Government do not feel able to support them, given the existing legislative obligations and current and future requirements in national policy, which will be given added force as a result of other provisions in this Bill.
Amendment 179A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, looks to define the purpose of planning and the meaning of “sustainable development”. The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. At a very high level, this can be summarised as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As part of achieving the three overarching objectives of sustainable development—economic, social and environmental—the framework sets out policies on good design, sustainable transport, an integrated approach to the location of housing, economic uses, and community services and facilities. It recognises the importance to health, well-being and recreation that open spaces and green infrastructure provide. It also contains policies for how to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places.
So that sustainable development is pursued in a positive way, at the heart of the framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. This means that all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to meet the needs of the area, align growth and infrastructure, improve the environment, and mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects. It also means that the strategic policies should provide for housing needs unless protected areas or assets of particular importance provide a strong reason for restricting development—for example, green-belt land. To reiterate, the framework must, as a matter of law, be taken into account when preparing development plans and is a material consideration in planning decisions.
I accept what the Minister said about the presumption in favour of sustainable development. She listed the things that have to be balanced, but the issue is how that balance takes place. In my experience as a local councillor, climate change is often at the bottom of that balance; economic development and the need for growth and jobs are at the top, and housing development is there, but climate change is much less important in the eyes of planning policies, planning inspectors and local plans. Can the Minister explain how the climate change element will be given greater importance and priority?
My Lords, to begin with, I do not agree that local authorities across the UK are not taking net zero and sustainability seriously. We know that local authorities across the country are making great strides towards our net-zero future. There are some brilliant examples of local action, innovation and excellence in this area, so I do not agree with the noble Baroness. When we get national planning policies that make these issues important nationally, councils will have to take them seriously and align their local plans with them. I would not want anybody to think that local government is not taking this seriously, because it certainly is and it is doing a huge amount to deliver our net-zero targets.
In December we published a consultation on updating the national planning policy, focusing largely on changes to housing policy that we intend to make in spring. This consultation closed on 2 March this year. We also sought initial views on some wider changes, which we will take forward into a fuller review of the framework. This fuller review will consider the scope to go further on a range of areas, including ensuring that the planning system capitalises on opportunities to support the natural environment, respond to climate change and deliver on the levelling up of economic opportunity—so there is more to come.
I am grateful to the Minister for her response so far. Can she pick up the points that the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and I made about the piecemeal nature of how this works and the legislation that informs planning? The Minister herself set out some of the many pieces of legislation that come together to drive forward the statutory framework instilling this in planning, but at the moment that makes for a fairly piecemeal approach that requires drawing together. These amendments were tabled to enshrine in legislation the overarching purpose of building sustainability into the planning system.
I think everybody who has spoken has made the point that the National Planning Policy Framework is not statutory; it is guidance. Different planning inspectors will interpret the local authority’s interpretation of that guidance differently. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and others outlined, sometimes the most ambitious authorities find themselves coming into conflict with their planning inspectors in this respect, because they do not accept the ambition that has been put into their local plan. Can the Minister pick up those points?
A number of pieces of legislation from a number of different areas of government and beyond have an effect on net zero, sustainability and climate change. That is going to happen. I know that this was brought up in our meetings with noble Lords prior to the Bill, and it is a complex area. I will once again try to show your Lordships how this all fits together to ensure that we are all working in the same direction and delivering what we know we want for climate change, net zero and sustainability.
The Minister said that everyone is moving in the same direction. Since the big building companies such as Barratt and Taylor Wimpey have not come up, can she enlighten the House on what kinds of conversations she has had with such companies about their willingness to adopt a statutory policy about net zero into their building targets?
I have certainly had no conversations with those people, and I do not know whether the Housing Minister has. I will make sure to ask and find out. That is the whole idea of planning: if the policy requires it, the developers need to act within planning policy in order to develop.
I reiterate that the Government will be reviewing the strategic objectives set out in planning policy to ensure that they support the Government’s environmental targets under the Environment Act, net zero, and the national adaptation programme. This comes back to what the noble Baroness opposite was saying: are we joining it up? Yes, we are checking it with the Environment Act to make sure that we will deliver through the planning system everything that we agreed to in it.
While I appreciate the essence of this amendment, it is not one that the Government feel able to support, given the clear purposes for planning already set out in national policy.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for a very illuminating debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, this is all occurring against the backdrop of the recently issued UN climate report. That highlighted all the progress that has been made, but we need to do more to move further, faster. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, the planning system is one of the most powerful levers that we can pull in that respect, so we need to make sure that we make the most of it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, set out well the aspirations of local authorities and councils in wanting to help with declared climate emergencies. It is all about the tools to enable them to do that. Her Amendment 179A is very closely aligned with mine, so I look forward to working with her.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, set out many of the wider benefits to health and levelling up from looking at the planning system. The Minister set out all the various mentions of climate change scattered throughout the legislation and the various framework documents, but I think that noble Lords have strongly made the case for aligning all this and pulling it together in the legislation in the form of a net-zero test. I hope that she will consider that as we move towards Report. I look forward to further discussion with her but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 179 withdrawn.
Amendment 179A not moved.
Clause 78: Power in relation to the processing of planning data
180: Clause 78, page 88, line 9, at end insert—
“(1A) Regulations under this Chapter may require relevant planning authorities to process data in accordance with approved data standards relating to the number and nature of—(a) second homes, and(b) holiday let propertiesin the planning authority area.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would enable planning data regulations to provide for the collection of data to national standards about second homes and holiday lets.
My Lords, the amendments in this group cover the issues of data and data sharing for, as well as the registration of, and safety standards in, properties available for short-term let. It is not my intention to speak on registration, with the exception of two brief comments. I will happily leave that to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, with his great expertise as chairman of the Built Environment Committee.
My two comments are simply these. I note that the consultation on registration ended in September last year, and to date we still have not had any response from the Government. That clearly would have been very helpful to have had in time for our deliberations today. I also comment that, although I entirely accept that registering and licensing can be used interchangeably, I certainly would prefer to have licensing and a licensing regime rather than a registration regime.
I turn to my Amendments 180 and 445A, which address data issues. I believe very firmly that Clause 78 is very important and, indeed, welcome, because it requires local authorities to use data standards when they process information in connection with a planning function that are designed to ensure that planning data is comparable across local authorities and formatted in the same way so that machines can collect and process it, making it much more useful for research and innovation. It is an important and welcome clause, as is the equally welcome creation by the Government of a digital planning programme, a spatial data unit and various support systems to enable local authorities to use the data to best effect in preparing local plans and policies.
However, in earlier amendments I proposed the creation of new use classes for second homes and holiday lets. I will not repeat the case I made then to justify that— I suspect others may comment on that—but I note that there was widespread support for the establishment of new use categories in the way I described. In the hope that the Government will either accept my proposal for new use categories or collect the relevant detailed data in relation to those categories through the licensing or registration scheme, I have simply tabled Amendment 180 so that data that is collected, by whichever means, would be processed in accordance with the same national standards. This seems important because consistent and comparable data about second homes and holiday lets is, frankly, woefully lacking, as many people pointed out in our earlier discussions, not least the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. Indeed, data on holiday lets is patchy, as it is for second homes.
Building on the point that the noble Earl made at the time, I say that although some official information is available on second homes via council tax records, in those authorities that do not offer the council tax discount for second homes there is no incentive for owners to register them, so it is likely that the council tax records significantly underestimate the scale of second homes in some areas. This data deficiency makes it difficult for researchers to track developments in both classes and the effect of second homes and holiday lets on, for example, house prices and local economies, and for local authorities to enforce regulation and taxation. Hence the benefit of the new use classes, coupled with data collected and processed to national standards, as proposed in this amendment, thereby ensuring robust, comparable and usable data on second homes and holiday lets, enabling better analysis and local regulation of these types of usage and adding to the department’s valuable work to improve local spatial and planning data.
However, to maximise those benefits, the data collected must come from as many sources as possible, including not least the platforms that offer holiday lets. Frankly, it is almost impossible to enforce licensing restrictions without, for example, rental data on how many days each property is actually let. We heard in earlier debates about London’s 90-day minimum period for short-term lets, but the Mayor of London himself has said that it is near impossible for councils to enforce it due to the lack of access to booking data from platforms. Indeed, Councillor Matt Noble from Westminster City Council very recently told your Lordships’ Built Environment Committee:
“If we were to have a data-sharing agreement with the platforms, that would be incredibly useful so that we could access and identify those issues of non-compliance with the hosts.”
I absolutely accept that platforms are not keen to hand over this data unless they can be sure it is kept confidential and used only for specific purposes; hence, as proposed in Amendment 445A, the need for data-sharing agreements—something that has already been adopted across the European Union.
I accept that Clause 210(5)(i) addresses data collection but, as I read it, it does not cover data sharing, so I look forward to the Minister either correcting me or commenting on how data sharing will be covered, given the clear need for it. I point out that I raised enforcement in an earlier group and at that time the Minister did not respond. I hope she will at least agree that data-sharing agreements will help enforcement.
I turn now to Amendments 445, 445B and 457, which address aspects of safety in short-term lets. Clause 210(5(c) as it stands would allow the registration of short-term lets to be conditional upon the safety conditions being met, but that clause lacks any detail about what is going to be required.
Analysis by the Centre for Public Data shows that many Airbnb and other short-term let listings appear to lack basic safety features, such as smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. The analysis by the centre found that in 2022—last year—9% of listings, excluding tents, yurts and campsites, were described as not having smoke alarms, 44% were described as not having fire extinguishers and 41% of properties with heating were described as not having carbon monoxide detectors. Airbnb does not check that listings have fire alarms, extinguishers or carbon monoxide detectors, or even require hosts to certify that they provide them. It does not ask hosts to confirm that gas safety or electrical checks have been carried out; hence Amendment 445, which addresses electrical safety, and Amendment 445B, which addresses safety issues in relation to gas, fire and carbon monoxide.
I will illustrate the need to specify in the Bill what more detailed requirements are needed by considering the issue of electrical safety, because I referred to this at Second Reading. I said then that Electrical Safety First points out that there is an alarming situation where short-term lets are not covered by the same electrical safety regulations as traditional holiday accommodation, forms of rented accommodation or short-term lets in Scotland. There is a loophole in the law that I believe Amendment 445 would plug.
The amendment is needed because 54% of guests in short-term lets have experienced some form of electrical safety issue: 19% of guests have reported being in properties with broken sockets or light switches; 50% have reported staying in properties where there was exposed wiring; and 13% have experienced scorching or burn marks around sockets or light switches. Amendment 445 deals with the electrical installations in the property and the portable electrical appliances provided in it.
In relation to the installations, the amendment would require the hosts of short-term lets to have an electrical safety inspection carried out at least every five years by a competent and qualified person and to possess an electrical installation condition report. This is already required in other forms of rented accommodation. Given that 89% of electrical fires are caused by electrical appliances, the amendment would also require that a portable appliance test—a PAT—on such appliances is carried out, from electric cookers to hairdryers. That must be done as part of the letting. Across all forms of tenure, these products cause 12,000 fires and 3,000 injuries every single year, some of them sadly fatal, as was the case at Grenfell Tower. It is essential that such appliances in short-term lets have a PAT.
It is not surprising perhaps that, based again on the survey from Electrical Safety First, 92% of guests consider it important that the premises they stay in meet formal safety electrical requirements for both the installations and equipment. Adding these safety provisions and those in Amendment 445A to registration conditions would require hosts to pay more attention to their existing legal duties and provide for effective sanctions if properties are found to lack safety provisions.
The Government said they are committed to ensuring that England has high-quality tourist accommodation. Amendments 445 and 445A, together with Amendment 447 which provides definitions, would help achieve this. I believe that these amendments on data collection and sharing, and on safety requirements, are useful additions to the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for his introductory remarks. He made some important points. The points I am going to make are slightly different.
I will speak to the four amendments in my name in this group: Amendments 441, 443, 444 and 446. I do so with the cross-party support of other members of the Built Environment Select Committee, as is seen from the names subscribed to the amendments. I am glad to see various noble Lords here who are, or who have been, members of that committee and who may wish to speak in this short debate, which is principally focused on the Government’s proposals in the Bill to empower themselves to introduce a national registration scheme for short-term let properties.
These amendments arise from a short inquiry conducted by the Built Environment Select Committee last year in which we looked at the effects of Airbnb and similar type properties on various localities. It was chaired not by me at that time but by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. As committees tend to, we reached some conclusions we agreed on and had various questions that we wanted to ask the Government about the national registration scheme, which by then we were aware they were bringing forward and proposing. The Government clearly see it as central to their approach to dealing with the problems that have been identified.
One of the things we were able to agree on—here I part company slightly with the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, as was mentioned in Committee only two days ago—was that, while there was a problem, the evidence showed us that it was quite localised. It is a problem which exists in particular types of localities, including densely populated urban areas such as central London and in holiday areas. We did not see the case for a compulsory national registration scheme. We did see a case for local authorities in areas that are adversely affected to be empowered to have a registration scheme that they could apply locally.
Beyond that, we had a number of questions. We put our views and questions in a letter to the Government, as one does, and we addressed it—thinking we were doing the right thing—to the Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Our first surprise was being told, after a little while, that the reply would in fact come from a different department—the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. So I first ask my noble friend to explain clearly why a scheme so closely identified with the Secretary of State at DLUHC should in fact be handled, in policy and implementation terms, by a totally different department. It is of course entirely up to the Government to decide how to manage these things, but I think noble Lords will want to know who is in charge, so to speak, and where they should turn if they have views on the matter.
As I said, we received a reply from a Minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that was slightly odd in some ways. First, he appeared to think that the Bill in this Committee had already been enacted.
It had of course passed the Commons at that stage, and that may have been the cause of his confusion, but I know that noble Lords here would want him to be aware that the Bill is far from enacted. In fact, it is further from being enacted at this stage in Committee than it possibly was on the first day on which we sat to consider it. The Bill that emerges may yet not be quite the Bill that the Minister thinks is in force, but I am sure that all of this will be sorted out for him by his officials.
In his reply, he referred to the call for evidence that the Government issued last year—I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for bringing this up. He referred to it, saying that the Government had gone out and called for evidence, but he gave no explanation of why, months later, we still have not seen the evidence submitted as a result of that call. I am sure it would be immensely helpful to your Lordships, in considering this particular aspect of the Bill, to know what evidence the Government received. So my second question to my noble friend is: can she tell us when we will see the evidence that was submitted to the Government last year, with any conclusions that they might have drawn from it at this stage? In particular, will noble Lords have an opportunity to see it before we arrive at Report, or—this would be very helpful—while we are still in Committee? The essential thrust of what I will say in the remainder of my speech—I think noble Lords might be grasping it—is that we are being asked to empower the Government to introduce a national registration scheme without being given any information on what it might contain.
This brings me to the remaining part of the letter that the committee received in reply to its polite inquiries. We asked some questions about how this would operate, but we were told by the Minister that none of these questions could be answered at this stage because they would all be the subject of public consultation. Public consultation is a very good and necessary thing, and we have no criticism of the Government for committing to undertake public consultation on the scheme, but you have to consult on something: you have to put some proposals to the public in order to elicit their opinion. My question, as a result of reading the letter from the Minister, is: do the Government have any idea at all of what they will put to the public? If they do—I very much hope they do—can my noble friend say what they are?
The content of these four amendments follows from this. I will run through them briefly, because all of them are probing amendments, seeking an answer from the Government to questions raised in our letter. It seemed very good to be able to give the Government this opportunity, in Committee, to answer questions that they were not able to answer a few weeks ago.
Amendment 441 raises the question of whether the Government have it in mind that this should be a national and compulsory scheme or one which has the local discretion which the committee favoured—we would like to know.
Amendment 443 raises the question of what the Government mean by a “short-term” let. It is put down as “90 days” in the amendment, but that is for probing purposes. Do they mean 90 days? What exactly will count as a short-term let for this purpose? If they do not have an exact figure—90 days, 80 days, 100 days—could they give us a range of what they think constitutes a short-term let before they go out to public consultation?
Amendment 444 raises a question about something on which the committee agreed—I should have said that earlier—that any national registration scheme should not apply to rooms being let out in one’s own home. In fact, the Government encourage people to let out rooms in their own home by giving them a tax break on the rental income received, so that appears to be one government policy. Is it the Government’s intention to include rooms let out in one’s principal home in a national registration scheme, and, if so, how does that mesh with the tax credits and the signals given by the tax system to those who do so?
The final question we wanted to know the answer to was: how will this be paid for? Whether it is a national or local scheme, I would have thought that it will almost certainly be implemented by local authorities, or that they will have a major role in its implementation, so how will they be remunerated for this? Fees will no doubt be charged, so how high will the fees be? Will the local authority be able to set its own fees in local circumstances, or will it be limited to charging only on a cost-recovery basis? Amendment 446 proposes cost recovery, but it is not a proposal; it is a probing amendment. This is a chance for the Government to say what they are thinking about fees and remuneration for local authorities.
Those are the four questions to which we did not feel we had received proper answers. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will be able to give us some assurance and answers on those matters, and on the other matters I raised earlier, when she responds to the group. I add that, apart from this very short debate, I think that noble Lords will have no other opportunity, other than on Report, to have a say on the scheme before it comes to be proposed and no doubt incorporated in a statutory instrument or some other measure. So this is an important juncture—one in which noble Lords, I think, will want to hear some answers from my noble friend, as I do.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Moylan, who is the finest chair of the House of Lords Built Environment Committee since my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe last year. He is a very fine chair, and I enjoy his chairmanship and his speeches. His four questions are entirely reasonable. I declare my residential and commercial property interests, none of which is involved in short-term lets, and that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association —it only took 20-odd years to get there, but I am delighted to have that honour.
I will make a general point, as someone who spent the bulk of their political career in local government as opposed to central government, which I know my noble friend the Minister will understand as a distinguished council leader. Would it not be far better to have a national compulsory scheme that was not a one size fits all? I say that because Wiltshire, which she led so brilliantly, is very different from Hammersmith and Fulham; Shepherd’s Bush does not look like some of the places in Wiltshire. Equally, the problems that have been outlined—certainly from the evidence collected by the Built Environment Committee—are very focal, and they require different solutions. A framework of some kind that enables local implementation seems incredibly sensible to me, and the probing around the definition of a short-term let seems very sensible to me. It is entirely courteous to the Members of this House that, when we deliberate and collect evidence to improve approaches, we take those points on board. I would like the Government to reflect on the fact that this process is really helpful; the Back-Benchers are trying to help get better legislation. Before you consult, it would be nice to know the way in which you propose to consult—and then, I am sure, we will get this right.
My Lords, I support Amendments 441, 443, 444 and 446 on the theme of short-term lettings, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, the esteemed chair of your Lordships’ Built Environment Committee, on which I am honoured to serve. I also support the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, on data sharing and safety.
I share the worries relayed very forcefully in submissions to our Built Environment Committee over the loss of long-term rented homes because of landlords switching to short-term lettings—propelled not least, it seems, by a tax and regulatory regime that favours the latter. As the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has said, our debate last Monday covered a lot of the issues that have been debated in our committee and are now the subject of these probing amendments. Noble Lords gave much support on Monday to earlier amendments that advocated a registration or licensing scheme—the two could look very similar. The Built Environment Committee favoured local discretion in introducing a national scheme locally, since some places have virtually no short-term lettings. It would be very bureaucratic to have a scheme applied there. The Government are also committed, as well as to a registration scheme, to taking a regulatory arrangement forward, and I hope that we can hear news from the Minister of a timetable in this regard.
In addition, there was support on Monday for the proposition from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, endorsed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for new use classes, which would enable planning powers to be used to control numbers of short-term lets in each local authority. The Government are consulting on that proposition, which personally I would favour; it deserves attention, alongside some tweaks to remove perceived incentives in the tax and regulatory frameworks, which currently appear to encourage landlords to end longer-term lets and switch to Airbnb-style short-term rentals.
I add to the debate one extra ingredient: the international dimension. In this digital age, the Airbnb phenomenon for accommodation, like Uber for transport and Amazon for retail, is ubiquitous and has caused concern in sectors in most other advanced economies. Many different regulations have been applied in other countries, particularly in tourist hotspots. A report from the Property Research Trust last year, Regulating Short-Term Rentals: Platform-based Property Rentals in European Cities, describes numerous efforts to face this challenge. Amsterdam has a strict permit system, with fines of about £20,000 for failure to comply. Barcelona has banned all short-term rentals, even in private homes. In Ireland, those areas of the country designated as rent-pressure zones have tough restrictions. In parts of the United States, such as San Francisco and Boston, only properties with the host living there during the stay are allowed to be operated as short-term lets. This international perspective demonstrates that we are not alone in facing this problem. We have a greater problem of scarcity of rented housing than most of our neighbours, which suggests that an effort to get to grips with the downside of short-term lets may be overdue here.
I have one final point. Amendment 444 reflects the Built Environment Committee’s firmly held view that new arrangements should not deter any home owners from letting spare rooms on a short-term basis. The current tax-free position, allowing up to £7,500 per annum, encourages the use of underutilised assets and brings extra income that can help with rising mortgage costs. The amendment emphasises the value of continuing that favourable tax regime for owner-occupiers in underoccupied homes.
I hope that the Government will be bold in following the lead of many other countries. We need to address the pain and disruption being caused in particular locations by the growth of short-term lets that replace badly needed longer-term rented homes. I support the amendments.
My Lords, I too support these amendments, particularly the lead amendment in this group, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, about the gathering of better data. I will try not to repeat what I said last time, other than that I have some skin in the game here in the sense that I jointly own properties that are let on assured shorthold tenancies, as well as short-term holiday let properties.
This is a multifaceted issue. Second homes may, at other times, be part-time holiday lets. Holiday lets may be for leisure trips one minute and for business purposes another, and they may alter from season to season. They may be for a couple of days at one point, or a couple of weeks or three months at another point. It is very difficult to make a one-size-fits-all assumption when you are dealing with short-term lets, holiday lets or even assured shorthold tenancies.
The platforms are also equally variable: it could be booking.com—a very common one—Airbnb, an owner’s own website, word of mouth, a card in the window of the local convenience store, or a repeat booking. They are all means of people getting in contact. I know this for a fact, because the only one that does not affect the properties that I am involved with is Airbnb as we do not use that platform, but I know lots of people who do. In respect of what the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, the thing about a platform such as Airbnb is its slickness and convenience for users—both lessors and prospective occupiers. That has really made it a benchmark worldwide phenomenon and has driven its operation and popularity as much as any wish to shift from one to the other.
I contacted a local estate agent down in the West Country—not one I use but I knew somebody in the place—and asked them what was happening with short-term lets as against assured shorthold tenancies, for example. They deal with a lot of such tenancies; they are one of the main agents in that area. I was told that, while there is considerable demand for assured shorthold tenancies—often 20 or 30 applicants for each—there were very few cases of an AST being terminated for the purpose of moving the property to a short-term letting. There was nearly always some other reason for ending the AST: it was a pot of money that the owner wanted to put into some other investment, such as extending another house or helping a child with a house purchase in another part of the country.
I do not know, therefore, how frequent this supposed transfer is. Organisations such as Shelter say that they have lots of people coming along saying that they have been kicked out because the owner wanted to do an Airbnb-type letting, but I do not know whether that is an essentially urban phenomenon—it may be—or more general. I just do not think that we have the data. That goes back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Foster, made: we need better data.
I would worry about attempts to jump to conclusions about what we do here. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, the chairman of the wonderful committee of which I am a former member, but I worry about attempts to jump to conclusions, particularly because we have not had the results of the Government’s own thinking on this, and particularly when applying these user types to a range of properties that equally has a very considerable breadth—from a shepherd’s hut at one end through to a static caravan and to a permanent dwelling. Some may be suitable only for seasonal use: I think of the very large caravan parks that—“decorate” is the wrong word—“appear” in places such as the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. I cannot say that I regard them as beautiful or a benefit to the environment, but they clearly fulfil a seasonal requirement.
There are some settlements—some seaside places and holiday hotspots—that are built on tourism. That is what they are there for, almost, and the fact that they empty themselves for parts of the year is not a particularly modern phenomenon. I remember when as children we used to go on holiday to a part of Cornwall on an annual basis, and just about every other house was advertising bed and breakfast. Those bed and breakfasts may have morphed into Airbnb, or a short-term let on some other platform. Noble Lords have mentioned that there are clearly problems associated with an imbalance of property uses, but as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, confirmed—I raised this point on Monday —these are not consistent, geographically or by type. They tend to be associated with hotspots of one sort or another. We need to understand the dynamic.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, picked up on the point I made that we need to flesh out a great deal more what is happening here. If we do not know the purposes and drivers behind what is happening in any given instance then we are not going to get near to creating viable policies for the purpose. Let us make no mistake: this phenomenon is undoubtedly causing problems in certain areas. We had evidence of that in the Built Environment Select Committee when I was privileged to serve on it. What is required here is a degree of localised assessment, but based on consistent, nationally accepted data-gathering principles and analysis, so that we get a proper basis for dealing with this, and can look at and compare like with like and not be comparing apples with pears.
I entirely endorse Amendments 445B and 447, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, because I know for a fact how very important safety is within a property, particularly where there is short-term turnover of occupancy and people are not particularly familiar with the property. It is absolutely important that they are safe, and that things such as batteries in smoke detectors are checked annually and that combustion appliances have proper tests and are serviced. They should be safe and safety checked at regular intervals.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, referred to the business of trying to get at the data on this through council tax records. He is absolutely right that this is a pretty deficient way of dealing with it. I am going to tell a tale out of school here. My wife has written on numerous occasions to the billing authority in relation to a property that has been used for holiday letting for many years, saying, “Look, this is being used pretty much year-round as a holiday unit. Should it continue to be in council tax?” To which answer there came none, and why would there? Why would any clever finance officer of a local authority decide that he was going to forgo council tax—which he collects and keeps in his kitty, thank you very much—and be the collecting agency for business rates for central government, to be redistributed according to whatever the normal formula is? The noble Lord, Lord Foster, mentioned one area where the thing is skewed; that is a second area where there is a perverse incentive not to get things in the right slot.
It gets worse. Under the “check, challenge, appeal” process that business rates operators have to deal with when dealing with the Valuation Office Agency, someone has to formally claim the property for the purposes of being its agent before they can even get the process in train to change the assessment. That is not a sensible way of doing it either. We are completely at sea on this and really need to sort it out.
The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to fees. I am really glad that they have been raised. One of my children has an investment flat in part of south London. The local authority has decreed that they will pay either a registration fee or a licence fee—I do not know which —for the privilege of being a landlord. It confers no inspection or anything else. There do not seem to be any checks, just an address and a £600 fee every year. That is not small beer; it makes the difference between the thing being a reasonably profitable investment and being highly marginal. There is a risk that the fee can be used as a milch cow, which I rather object to for the reasons I made clear when I last spoke on this.
The distribution of second homes and very short-term lettings is not necessarily where people want to live and work. I made this point last Monday; I apologise for making it again, but it is important. We need to get a handle on the distribution issue, along with all the other functional things.
This is not the stuff of simple arithmetic. The Government may be looking hard into all these things but, until we have some qualitative data, going back to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, we will be adrift. We are at risk of making policies that produce an adverse reaction in their target area, because you never know what the intuitive response will be. There will be a disruptive effect, which is avoidable. There is a sensible way and a disruptive way of doing this. I hope we take the former route.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who was a member of the Built Environment Committee when we discussed this issue. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his excellent introduction; I agreed with probably most of what he said, which is quite unusual for me.
There is a housing problem. We are here to talk about the short-term issue and the relationship between supply and demand, the short-term issue and location, as other noble Lords have said. It comes back to the question of where the workers—the term is a little insulting—the people who need to live locally, will live. It varies across the UK. As noble Lords will know, I live in Cornwall and sometimes on the Isles of Scilly. I have a bit of data from Cornwall Council that puts this into perspective. According to the council, we have 13,292 second homes in Cornwall. I am not sure how that was measured or how you define a second home, which is partly what we are talking about now, but that is a pretty high figure.
On the question of where people might live, the same council and its deputy leader have said that there are 6,000 affordable homes in Cornwall which have planning permission, but only 600 are being built. One has to ask why. Is it that the developers are waiting for a year or two so that they can get a better sale price, or what? We need that information.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said that he did not have any evidence of people being kicked out of their longer-term lets for Airbnb, but there was evidence of this in Plymouth in a local paper article about six months ago. It named the person—I think—and where it took place. It involved a man who was working in some local authority role. He had been there for many years, but one day his landlord, who lived downstairs or upstairs in the house, gave him notice to quit, because he said he was going to sell it. So, the tenant had to leave. I do not know whether he found anywhere else; history does not relate. However, he did keep an eye on the property, and six months later he found it advertised on Airbnb. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it is keeping the availability of accommodation—both affordable and unaffordable homes—in a pretty nasty state wherever this happens. I recall asking the Airbnb witness, when he or she came to our committee, whether they felt it would be all right for somebody to be kicked out like that and for the council worker to sleep on a park bench—that was his alternative. I did not get much of an answer; I did not really expect one.
There is a problem here, but it is only in some places, as other noble Lords have said. There are other places where it is probably not necessary to have legislation, and that is the purpose behind Amendment 441. For me, the most important thing is to have the ability to register these properties when the local authority believes that it is necessary. So, I favour “permitting” in Amendment 441, but if the Government think that it is essential around the whole country, we will have to look at this again.
My worry about Amendment 443 is the inclusion of “90 days” in the definition of a short-term rental, but as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said, this a probing amendment. It is easy to ask: would this apply to a rental if it is let for 90 days, or if it is available for let for 90 days? Who is going to check? It is a bit difficult to define something which will probably cover the whole country—ditto my comments about Amendment 444. That amendment talks about one room in a house, which sounds fine. If you have a three-bedroom house and you let one, that sounds fine. However, there may be people who then build a bigger house in order to let multiple rooms—I do not know how many; it could be three, four, five or six—and make a lot of money out of it, and they could get away with it because it is a series of single rooms. All these special exclusions could make it more difficult for this legislation to work.
The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, are absolutely essential. This is one of the things we discovered with Airbnb, as the noble Lord said: it does not have to comply with any of these regulations. Fire and safety are fundamental to any property that is let. I know many people who run holiday lets, and they moan like anything that they have to get all these certificates. But if you have rented something, whether it is for a week, a day or a year, you still expect the same level of safety. It is amazing that people think they can get away with not having this.
Some noble Lords will have met the people doing the R&R, who told us what is going to happen with the restoration of this building. My first question to them was, “And what are you doing about fire extinguishers, fire monitoring, and extinguishers in the roof in particular, after Notre-Dame?” They said, “Well, that will come later, when we’ve decided what to do and started the work”. We all know that the most likely time for an old building to catch fire is when the contractors are in. That probably applies as much to lets registered or unregistered with the local authority as it does to this place—which we all love, of course.
In supporting all these amendments, my final comment, therefore, is that it is going to cost local authorities money to do these things. We know that. They must have the money and be allocated the money, and they must be able to spend it on what they like. Everybody will then think that this is all fair and above board, and they will sleep better in their beds at night.
My Lords, I am speaking as a former member of the Built Environment Committee; I was a member when the committee’s report was drawn up. I thank the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and his committee clerk for sending me a copy of the letter received by the committee this week, I understand, from the Minister who has accepted responsibility for this issue. It is, as it turns out, the Minister from DCMS. Before I go any further, I say that in a previous debate it was extremely frustrating for the Government Front Bench to reply, “Well, that was a matter for the Department for Transport”, and for no answer to be forthcoming. I hope we will not get into that dead end today, because this is a significant set of amendments on a significant proposal in the Bill. As this debate has already made clear, it has a very clear crossover into the housing market and the availability of housing in many areas of the country.
When the committee commenced its inquiry, it consisted of members with a very wide range of views—from those who had an extremely free-market approach to the housing situation and believed that the market would determine it, to those at the other end who thought that the best solution to our housing problem was a state allocation system. So, we had a very wide range of views in the committee, but we received such convincing evidence during the inquiry that it was not that difficult for us to produce a consensus report. The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, are very much exploring with the Government their response to the committee’s report, and I have signed Amendment 441 in particular. The Government’s wording in the Bill is that the Secretary of State can propose regulations “requiring or permitting” local authorities to do something, but the amendment would delete “requiring” so that the Secretary of State’s regulations can only be about “permitting” them.
I am also privy to what my noble friend Lady Thornhill would have said if she had not tested positive for Covid yesterday: “My first major concern is that there are several ‘may’ or ‘must’ statements in the Bill, which could either require or permit action, and there is a world of difference between the two. We are being asked to agree a general principle and accept that there will be additional shorter consultations to bring forward a set of regulations on the details of how such a registration scheme would operate.” My noble friend Lady Thornhill shares my aversion to the Government having unfettered power and, on this occasion, even being able to restrict the time for consultation. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has spoken about that. I hope that the Minister, despite being from the wrong department, will be able to tell us what the outcome of that consultation process was.
Both my noble friend Lady Thornhill and I would like to hear what the Government’s current thinking is on whether short-term lets should constitute a change of use and therefore require planning permission, or whether they should not. It is a key element in permitting some degree of local flexibility for any scheme that comes forward.
I am sorry to remind noble Lords that on several occasions so far in our discussions I have had something to say about the plethora of regulatory impositions that the Bill contains, and this has more, of course. I would like to hear whether there is any departmental working—anything in the pipeline—on the combined impact of all these regulations from different legislative provisions on councils’ ability to deliver what they are supposed to be doing. How open are the Government to responding to the fact that the need for action is very different in different parts of the country? Is the Minister fixated on a one-size-fits-all solution, either where everybody must or where everybody is forbidden to license or register as the case may be?
The committee took evidence from south Devon, where there is a serious problem, and my noble friend Lord Foster in the debate at the beginning of the week referred to a village known to him in east Suffolk where a very high proportion of homes are second homes or holiday lets. However, if one turned to the metropolitan boroughs of Knowsley or Halton, one would find, for all practical statistical purposes, that there are no second homes in those two boroughs, and no Airbnb or other short-term lets being advertised. That strongly suggests to me that the right approach is to have a permissive regime, not a compulsory one, and I believe that is soundly based on the evidence that the Select Committee received.
A key drawback of any national or uniform legislative outcome is that it requires resources, human and financial, to set up and run and to monitor and enforce. Several noble Lords mentioned registration fees; they can be set to cover the cost, and one of the amendments which I did not sign said they should be on a cost-recovery basis. However, that works only if there are sufficient homes—some might say too many—that need to be licensed in a particular area. How would the costs of setting up, monitoring and enforcement be covered in areas of low or very low prevalence of such homes? Either the measure becomes a complete dead letter because there are no resources to implement it, or the licence fee charged will have to be wholly disproportionate. We get to the strange situation where the fewer the homes, the greater the charge would have to be to cover providing that service.
Conversely, the evidence the committee took on Airbnb lettings is that they are significantly more lucrative in certain areas to those who own the properties than in others. Do the Government envisage authorising a proportionately larger registration fee to allow councils to cover their costs—including, of course, the costs of enforcement—or not? Quite clearly, the profit from these homes in some areas will be significantly higher than in others.
These points all raise warning flags about not overpromising that this government provision as it stands will be the solution to the short-term letting problem. Indeed, you can ask a whole lot of other questions. Some have been posed by others, and others I could put into play now—but let us not do that.
All this suggests that the Minister might be well advised to try a couple of pilot schemes as a useful first step. Could she tell us whether she would consider that approach, or consider whether Wales has actually provided a pilot scheme because its scheme is discretionary? As I understand it, some local authorities in Wales have commenced a scheme while others have no intention of doing so at all. I realise that the Welsh scheme was not invented here, which may of course make it ineligible for consideration or comparison, but to do that might be time well spent.
I will briefly conclude by saying that I strongly support what my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath said about electrical safety. There seems to be absolutely no reason or argument to oppose his amendments, which would ensure that those who occupied short-term lets and dwellings, or indeed any accommodation, had a guarantee of a safe environment in which they could operate.
My Lords, in an earlier debate on these topics on Monday, we heard the noble Lord, Lord Foster, discussing Southwold, where I spent many happy hours on holiday as a child and which now has, if I remember my figures from Monday rightly, only 500 permanent homes out of 1,400 homes. In that same debate the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred, as he did again today, to the fact that have not just a numbers problem but a distribution problem around the country because of the lack of available data.
We are all aware of the considerable issues presented in parts of our country related to second homes and short-term lets. That situation was clearly articulated by my noble friend Lady Hayman in our debate on Monday, when she articulated that communities are hollowed out because of the second homes left empty for large parts of the year, which means that all the community facilities that permanent residents need struggle to be viable. In addition, we see local house prices forced out of affordability for local people as second homes and holiday lets contribute to the housing pressures.
An amendment creating new use classes for second homes or holiday lets was rejected in the other place. Although amendments on the same subject were withdrawn on Monday, I hope that we come back to this, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Best, because it is critical that we tackle this issue. In the House of Commons, the Government claimed that these were not necessary as neighbourhood plans could create principal residence policies. However, I wonder whether the full extent of this issue and its impact, particularly on rural and coastal communities, has been properly assessed and understood. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, would enable the collection of data relating to this problem which might help to develop the picture further. However, we should encourage the Government, through the Minister, to consider this matter as urgent; it may already be too late for some of the communities worst affected. Surely we will not abandon these communities to the opportunities they offer for a small number of people to make a fast buck.
On the amendments tabled to Clause 210, which were clearly articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, we too are interested to hear the Government’s thoughts on the registration of short-term rental properties. It was interesting to hear about the work of the Built Environment Select Committee in that respect.
In the Commons, Ministers referred previously to the ongoing consultation on this matter—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to it again this afternoon. What is the outcome of that consultation—it has not been published yet—and what conclusions will the Government draw from it? I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Young, referred to this in an earlier debate on this topic.
I was very interested in the comments on the work of the Built Environment Select Committee, and it is fascinating to hear that this issue sits with the DCMS rather than DLUHC. I hope the Minister will respond to that. It is disappointing to hear that a Minister thinks that the whole Bill has already been enacted. In view of the fact that none of these issues has been dealt with, I think we are glad that it has not been so far, and I am sure that noble Lords here will improve the Bill as we go along.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification.
The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, set out the four questions asked by his amendments, and they are all very important questions on which I hope we will hear further from the Minister, particularly Amendment 446, which addresses how this is going to be paid for. That is one of a number of questions on fees and costs that appear about many other clauses of the Bill, so I hope we will have responses to those questions.
The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, largely relate to ensuring that the safety of short-term let properties is not left to chance. It is particularly important that properties left empty for periods of the year are subject to detailed regulation on safety matters. This would also encourage absentee landlords to ensure that their responsibilities are met. Recently, we have seen increasing pressure on social landlords to address safety provision—in fact, there are very stringent new requirements on them—so it is clearly an issue that the Secretary of State takes seriously. We should not have what would amount to an exemption for the owners of short-term let properties in this respect. I hope that may be addressed.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, also referred to the difficulty of enforcing licensing restrictions without data from booking platforms. Although I agree with him that booking platforms may be unwilling to release that data, it is really important and, without it, enforcement is difficult to address. Local authorities would struggle without effective data collection methods to enforce some of the matters raised in this debate.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to the perverse incentives that exist between council tax and business rates. This is really important to data gathering: there is no incentive for councils, because if they collect business rates, they have to send it all off to our good friends at the Treasury, whereas if they collect council tax, they keep it to deliver services to their communities, so there is not much incentive for them to get matters straight here.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to the importance of being reassured of the safety of the building, regardless of the length of time of the let. If you stay somewhere, even if just overnight, you want to be assured that the building is subject to the same safety regulations as would apply anywhere else you stayed.
Turning to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I am very sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, is not in her place today and I hope he will send her our very best wishes for a speedy recovery. He spoke about evidence to the Built Environment Select Committee from south Devon. I heard a great deal on this from my former colleague on the District Councils Network, Judy Pearce, who is the leader of South Hams Council and has been a powerful advocate of a great deal more action on second homes. The suggestion of pilot schemes—or taking advice from Wales, as I am sure my noble friend Lady Wilcox would say—is always a very good idea.
On 21 March, it was reported that changes aimed at restricting the way that homes can be turned into Airbnbs were being introduced, as the Secretary of State for DLUHC was going to bring them in. He acknowledged a problem with holiday lets preventing young people accessing jobs and homes. Can the Minister give us further information on whether that will come into the Bill as government amendments and when we will see government amendments to this effect?
Those are our comments on the amendments submitted. We support the amendments on registration and we certainly support the amendments on safety.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register as the owner of a second home in Pembrokeshire, one of the three local authorities that is introducing a licensing scheme—actually, it is not introducing a licensing scheme but a 300% increase in rates unless you rent your house out for more than six months, which I generally do.
This group of amendments concerns the operation of the short-term letting registration scheme introduced by the Bill. To start with Amendment 180, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Foster of Bath—I, too, send my good wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and hope she recovers swiftly from Covid—I start by acknowledging the important topic this amendment raises relating to holiday lets and second homes.
Data in relation to holiday lets is vital to support tourism and manage the impacts on local communities, which we can all acknowledge are, in some instances, very significant. I believe, however, that there may have been some misinterpretation on the intent of Clause 78 which may mean that this amendment would not be needed. Clause 78 aims to require planning authorities to process their planning data in accordance with approved data standards, whereas the amendment seeks to require collection of data by planning authorities. Nothing in Clause 78 can require or permit the collection of data by planning authorities, although it can regulate the manner of collection where that is authorised elsewhere.
With that having been said, I add a point of reassurance. Where planning authorities have this data, Clause 78(2)(b) provides the ability for data standards to be set for holiday-let data. As I mentioned in relation to Amendment 166, we are looking to further refine the data available both to the Government and to local authorities in this area. Both the existing data and any further data can then be subject to regulations under Clause 78 requiring local authorities to process that data in accordance with standards set by the Secretary of State. I am sure that we will discuss these powers further later in Committee.
On Amendments 441, 443, 444 and 446, tabled by my noble friend Lord Moylan, he has suggested how certain elements of the registration scheme could be designed, and I am grateful for his thoughts on these important questions of detail. As he will have heard, we intend to consult both on the registration scheme and on the potential for short-term let use classes, and we will need to reflect on the responses to those consultations in coming to a view on the matters he has raised. That will of course, as I alluded to earlier, include giving careful consideration to the interaction between the two sets of reforms. Although the Government wish to move quickly in this area, it is also important that we get this right for the affected communities. I look forward to working with him and other noble Lords as we seek to do so.
I will be coming to that in a moment.
Finally, I turn to Amendments 445, 445A, 445B and 447, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath. These amendments concern the detail of how the registration scheme will operate, particularly in relation to data sharing and the safety of properties. These issues will indeed be explored in the consultation, and a registration scheme will be designed to ensure that all providers of short-term lets are aware of their legal responsibilities to ensure health and safety in their properties. Infrequent use should not mean that short-term lets do not need to meet safety standards, but that issue will be considered in much more detail in the consultation.
The shape of England’s guest accommodation landscape has changed greatly over the past 15 years. Online platforms have enabled greater choice in accommodation for holidaymakers and have brought many benefits to the tourism sector. This proliferation of a new type of guest accommodation has, however, been unregulated, which has prompted concerns including on safety, as my noble friend highlighted. We want to ensure that England continues to provide a safe and competitive guest accommodation offer, while also supporting those who live and work in our local visitor economies.
That is why the Government launched a call for evidence on this topic, as an important first step in understanding how we can ensure we continue to reap the benefits of short-term lets, while also protecting holidaymakers and local interests. This initial call for evidence, which ran between June and September last year, was indeed led by DCMS, as it follows on from previous work that that department did, as short-term lets are an integral part of the UK visitor economy. A report on that call for evidence will be published at the same time as the consultation on the registration scheme, this summer, and I reassure noble Lords that both departments are working together closely because of their shared interest in the scheme.
It has become clear from the call for evidence process that there is a compelling case for introducing light-touch regulation in this sector, and that is what we are intending to do through the Bill. The Government are also introducing a registration scheme for short-term lets through the Bill. The details of how the scheme will operate will be explored through a public consultation, which will be published before this year’s Summer Recess with a view to the register being up and running as soon as possible thereafter. The consultation is intended to flesh out many different aspects of how the scheme would operate, such as what information would be collected, who would administer the scheme, which requirements should be satisfied as a condition of registering and whether any fees would be charged; it will also cover any enforcement powers, which were asked about by an earlier contributor to the debate.
The important matters on safety that noble Lords raised—
I appreciate what the Minister said about enforcement. It was in fact me who talked about that—not my noble friend Lord Shipley, as was widely said. Enforcement is vital because without it, the scheme becomes a dead letter. Making sure that any costs or fees take adequate account of that is quite important.
The noble Lord has made that point well and I will certainly take it back to the department, which will take note of it.
Regarding a precise time definition for short-term lets, it is not the length of time but the activity that is important. In essence, the definition of a short-term let is a dwelling used by a guest, in return for payment, that is not the guest’s main residence
The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, asked whether the planning changes that the Secretary of State referred to are the subject of the planned consultation on a short-term let use class, as discussed by this Committee on Monday. I recognise that a number of the questions asked by noble Lords will be answered only by the consultation process. However, I hope that, in the meantime, I have been able to offer at least some reassurance; I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Foster, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate; I have certainly learned a great deal. We had a discussion earlier about the difference between having a national scheme and a local scheme. I was tempted to say that I would refer to the speech I made two days ago.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, because he has demonstrated how your Lordships’ House can always find a solution to a problem. As I now read it, based on the conversations I have been having, we are collectively agreed that we will have a national registration scheme with local flexibility based on national standards. There is a great deal of sense in that.
I listened carefully to the Minister and I am grateful to her for her response to the debate but I find myself in a great deal of difficulty, as I suspect many other noble Lords do. She told us that there will be a new consultation and that we will know about that document only when we get answers to the outcome of the previous consultation. She has already indicated that that will not take place until the summer. Notwithstanding the concern of many of us that we may still be in Committee in the summer, I still think it would be helpful to have more information about what will be in that consultation before we take the Bill further.
In particular, I very much hope that, as other noble Lords have said, the consultation will clearly indicate the Government’s policy on the various issues we have been debating. For example, my noble friend Lord Stunell—or Shipley, or whichever guise he is taking on at the moment—raised the important issue of the fee-charging structure. It is important that this consultation says what the Government believe it should be and then gets a reaction to that.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response, at least in promising us that many of these issues will be covered. The problem is that we do not really know what the answers to our questions today will be. We look forward to raising these issues again at a future stage; hopefully, we will have received the consultation document by then.
I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 180 withdrawn.
Clause 78 agreed.
Debate on whether Clause 79 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, my amendment would remove Clause 79 from the Bill, and my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage has given notice of her intention to oppose Clause 81 standing part of the Bill. We have also a further amendment in this group. Clause 79 concerns the power in relation to the provision of planning data, while Clause 81 concerns the power to require the use of approved planning data software in England. After Clause 83, my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage’s Amendment 182 would insert the following:
“The Secretary of State may only make planning data regulations which contain provision relating to local authorities after consulting with local authorities.”
We oppose these clauses standing part of the Bill and have laid an amendment to Clause 83 because local authorities should be able to decide what planning data software they use. Also, local planning authorities that have already purchased software and tools may well find in future that what they have purchased is no longer approved for use, meaning that their investment has been made redundant and they have spent money they can probably ill afford to spend again. Will the Minister ask the department to look at this again in the light of local authorities’ concerns, particularly from that financial perspective?
Clause 81 permits the use of regulations to restrict or prohibit relevant planning authorities using software not approved by the Secretary of State, as I just talked about. The other concern is the unnecessary level of bureaucracy. This also risks reducing competition in the market, and I would be surprised if that is the Government’s intention. What is the Government’s intention behind this clause?
The Local Government Association supports our position and has confirmed that local authorities would of course need to ensure that their planning data software allows them to meet any new data standard requirements. It is also right that, where new regulations relating to local authorities are introduced, it should be done only following proper consultation with local authorities that will clearly be affected by this clause. This will help to ensure that the regulations are fit for purpose and that any new burdens are identified and properly addressed, and to avoid any unintended consequences during implementation. Do the Government intend to carry out any consultation before implementation? Have they already spoken to local authorities about this? If so, what was the response?
We appreciate that the Government are bound by public procurement rules. I spent much time on the then Procurement Bill as it went through this House, so I am aware that within the general procurement framework there is a specific set of rules and handbooks for technology procurement.
However, we believe that the powers in Clause 81 are just too expansive. They enable Ministers by regulation to restrict or prevent the use or creation of software that is used by planning authorities to process the planning data. Further checks should be put in place on their usage, and I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response in that regard.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, has an amendment to Clause 23 which would require the Secretary of State to publish the results of a consultation and give reasons for any decision reached. We strongly support that amendment. It is an important consideration and consultation should be part of any decision-making in this area. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak on this group, and I will speak also to my Amendment 181 to Clause 83. I sat through Second Reading but did not speak. I can claim only that I had intellectual indigestion through trying to understand what the Bill is all about.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is looking at the difficulties from a local authority point of view. My speech is from a devolved authority point of view. It is in Part 3 of the Bill that the devolved Administrations have the greatest worries about infringement of their devolved competence. My interest is as a Scot living in Scotland. Part 3 of the Bill has been referred by the Scottish Parliament to its Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee for consideration, and other sections have been referred to the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. That is all very well, but none of these committees has recommended legislative consent, and they are due to give their final conclusions when we get to Third Reading, which is not very far off.
At an earlier stage in the Bill, my noble friend the Minister was telling the House that civil servants are regularly in touch with their Scottish counterparts. Surely a Bill of this complexity must, at some stage, require some negotiation at ministerial level as well. Can my noble friend tell us of any hint of consent from any of these branches of the Scottish Parliament?
I turn to Clause 81 and the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. The clause requires the use of approved planning data in England. It portends that one of the things that the Government will be seeking is to get compliance in due course with the use of their approved planning data from all the devolved Administrations. While this may be understandable on a practical level, it bears the echo of a previous experience that the Scots have had, in a more limited field with which I am familiar. Some years ago, in contrast to England, the Scots developed an electronic sheep traceability system and associated database, known as sheep EID. It has worked very well. Recently, the department in England decided to inaugurate a similar programme and was offered the chance to share the system and the cost. This was rejected for no apparent reason. Therefore, one has misgivings about the application of systems.
At various points in the Bill we have considered whether the requirement for consultation is appropriate. There is much that can be said about meaningful consultation, but this clause requires any Secretary of State to consult in specific circumstances. The amendment requires them to publish the results and give reasons. The issue is of much concern to the Scottish Law Society, which drew my attention to it and which welcomes the obligation to consult and to give the conclusions and reasons for the decision, which would serve the interests of transparency.
In a previous group, we had a magnificent example of people dying to know the outcome of a consultation when the Government were sitting on it. This amendment would ensure that all information was available. It seems obvious that planning was not reserved under Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 and so it is fair to assume that planning data falls into the same category. Can we assume that as the approved planning data systems for England required by the Bill are developed, we will be aware of what is likely to be required from the existing records of the devolved Administrations?
As a Scot by birth living in England, I support my noble friend the Duke of Montrose in his Amendment 181. It is good that in this clause, as my noble friend said, the Government are committed to consulting in specific circumstances. However, too frequently we are not seeing the results of the consultations in a timely fashion, particularly before any regulations under this part of the Bill may be drafted and come before the House. Therefore, I lend this amendment my strongest support.
My noble friend also raised collaborating with the Scottish Parliament with a view to obtaining legislative consent. We have had two recent regrettable circumstances where the Scottish Parliament—and in one case, the Senedd—withheld their consent. This could be avoided if discussions took place with the relevant committees of the Scottish Parliament at the earliest stage and throughout the course of the Bill. I am thinking particularly of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which has exercised the House at quite some length, and the recent Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill. The withholding of legislative consent could have been avoided by the Scottish Parliament if the Government had liaised with them and the relevant committees at a much earlier stage.
With those remarks, I support all the amendments in this group, particularly that in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose.
My Lords, Part 3, Chapter 1 of the Bill, entitled “Planning Data”, asks more questions than it answers. I will be grateful if the Minister can answer some of them.
First, what is the purpose of requiring an approved national planning software? Is it so that the Government can more readily access planning data from across the country? If so, to what purpose do they want to put the data that they acquire in that way?
Secondly, how many different planning software systems are in operation at the moment? Digitising planning is a complicated operation, so you would not expect that many but, if there are, have local planning authorities already expressed a clear preference to use a single system? This takes me to the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in that, if the Government are requiring a single approved planning software, there would be considerable costs attached to local planning authorities transitioning to a new software system. You would want to balance those costs against the benefits. The Bill makes no obvious benefit of using a single system. Another issue is about compatibility. If the current software systems are compatible, is this a solution seeking a problem? There may not be a problem if they can already speak to each other.
My third concern with Clause 79, and the stand part question expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, is that planning applications have to be retained for a long time. I cannot remember for how long; I think it is 30 years, but it may be longer. If that is the case, all previous planning applications going back a certain length of time would have to be put on to a new system, so that the systems could talk to each other. As all noble Lords know, there are planning applications made on the same place time and again and in different forms. I want to understand the purpose of this: why and who benefits?
Another of my concerns is this. I am in favour of digitising; I think it has huge benefits for many people, particularly planning professionals, in this case. It would be much easier to have it all online. However, if it is going to be a digital-only system, as seems to be the thrust of this group of clauses, the Government will be guilty of digital exclusion.
The Government must recognise two things. First, many people access all their digital needs only through a mobile phone. Accessing a planning application, with all its complexity, through a mobile platform will not provide the level of detail that they want. Secondly, many parts of the country still do not have either sufficiently good broadband or mobile signal. Digital exclusion could be a growing issue, especially in planning. People get involved in planning applications, big and small, and I am sure that the last thing the Government want is to exclude residents for different reasons—accessibility or knowledge of use.
I have asked many questions, but I hope the Minister is able to answer them. While digitising planning systems has many positives, they have to be weighed against some of the many negatives that exist.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for her valuable contribution to this debate and for focusing our attention on these provisions. In the light of her remarks, it is probably best for me to start by explaining the importance of Clause 79.
Too often, planning information is hard to use for all the purposes that it should serve. Clause 79 is designed to address this problem. Planning authorities often receive large amounts of information which requires manual intervention to make it usable. Re-entry is then required to use that information later in the system. These manual tasks take valuable time away from planning authorities performing their core role of making decisions that matter to communities.
There are three key effects of this clause. First, it works with Clause 78 to ensure that complying with data standards does not create a new bureaucratic burden for planning authorities receiving information and then having to render it compliant. Secondly, it gives planning authorities the power to require information in a manner that best suits their systems and the data standards to which they are subject. Thirdly, it protects against the risk that some may attempt to use the requirements under Clause 78 to inconvenience local authorities’ decision-making by deliberately submitting information in a problematic format that is difficult to extract.
Clause 79 also sets out the process that planning authorities must follow to exercise their powers. Publication of a notice on the planning authority website or through specific communications will be required to inform participants of what planning data will be subject to data standards when it is submitted to a planning authority. In circumstances where the data fails to comply, a notice must be served specifying the reasons for rejection.
I will deal briefly with the power of planning authorities to refuse information as non-compliant. There is no obligation for planning authorities to refuse non-compliant information. However, for the reasons I have just outlined, we expect planning authorities to accept such information only exceptionally. The Committee will see that we have taken steps to protect those who are not able to submit using the means specified by the planning authority or who cannot comply with the data standards in that submission. Where the provider of information has a reasonable excuse, information cannot be refused. Planning authorities will be under a duty to accept—
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting. I wonder whether the Minister has any statistics about the problem that these clauses are trying to solve. What is the extent of the difficulty such that, when applicants submit their planning applications to the planning authority, they then have to be manually entered or have to use a different system? Do we know the extent of that problem?
We have received representations from a number of local authorities on the difficulties that they encounter and the sheer time that it takes to process information that does not conform to their systems.
As I was about to say, where the provider of information has a reasonable excuse, information cannot be refused. Planning authorities will be under a duty to accept and fully consider this information, so those with a reasonable excuse are not disadvantaged. Where information is initially refused by a planning authority, the clause provides the discretion to accept a compliant resubmission.
In summary, this clause will ensure that, by default, information received will be usable for all of the purposes to which planning authorities need it to be put. This will make the system more efficient, enabling planning authorities to work faster and focus on planning rather than data entry. That is the main point.
I turn next to Clause 81. Outdated and expensive software is one of the barriers that local authorities face to achieving more efficient ways of working in the planning process. Systems do not work with one another, forcing manual re-entry of information while locking that information away in formats that are not reusable. Clause 81 is essential for ensuring that planning authorities can benefit from the changes in this chapter through being supported by the right software, which can process standardised data.
The intent behind Clause 81 is to ensure the provision of software that is compatible with planning data requirements, so software approval requirements will follow on from the development of data standards set under Clause 78.
Our intention is to focus on exploring software that enables better availability of information and unlocks the ability to produce better tools for planning authorities. It is therefore not our intention to require the approval of all planning data software. We will continue working with planning authorities and the technology sector to determine when and where the use of this power will most benefit the planning system. In summary, this clause is essential for delivering effective, high-quality systems which the public rightly expect of government at all levels. I commend it to the Committee.
Amendment 181, in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, relates to Clause 83, as he explained, and aims to make public the result of engagement between the UK Government and devolved Administrations. I need first to explain how this amendment impacts on the planning data section of the Bill. It is important to understand what is in scope of Clause 83 in relation to the devolved Administrations.
As it stands, the only matters within devolved competence that planning data regulations could apply to would be Part 6 of the Bill, on environmental outcomes reports, or EORs. As such, provisions relating to consultation with the devolved Administrations must be read alongside the wider EOR clauses.
As set out in Committee in the other place, the Government are continuing to work with the devolved Administrations to understand whether there is scope to extend the EOR powers to provide a shared framework of powers across the UK. Once those discussions have concluded, the Government will bring forward any necessary amendments to both Part 6 and Part 3 to reflect the agreed position between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. I reassure my noble friend and noble Lords that, in bringing forward the new system of environmental outcomes reports, the Government are committed to respecting the devolution settlements.
In answer to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, our discussions at this stage are with the devolved Administrations rather than with, for example, the Scottish Parliament. I hope noble Lords will agree that we should not be required to make public the results of confidential policy discussions between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. For all these reasons, I hope that my noble friend will accept that his amendment is unnecessary.
Amendment 182, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State has consulted local authorities before establishing planning data regulations. Local authorities’ input on the new data requirements is of course important as we look to transition from a largely document-based planning system to one that is data-driven.
However, I reassure noble Lords that the intention of this amendment has already been built into the approach that the department has taken to design and test the new planning data requirements. As I have emphasised, the Government’s policy aim through planning data regulations is to create consistency on a national level. This includes the way local authorities process and publish planning data and will ensure that they are supported by suitable software to meet the new requirements.
Since 2019, we have been working with local authorities to test potential new requirements, such as data standards. This has provided valuable insights on the views of local authorities and the support that they will require to implement the new data requirements. We will continue this collaborative approach to establish planning data regulations.
Local authorities are the experts in the needs of their local areas, and these local views will form the basis of our national strategy around planning data, which these regulations will establish. We will continue to work collaboratively with local authorities, through running pilots and pathfinder projects, to gather our insights and design the new requirements.
I will bring another point to noble Lords’ attention. Planning data regulations under Clauses 78 and 80 will concern the form of planning data to be processed and published by local authorities. The planning information that these regulations will address will already be part of the planning system.
Given the collaborative approach that we are already taking to design the new requirements that will inform planning data regulations, I hope that I have been able to reassure the noble Baroness that local authorities’ views have been, and will continue to be, central to any planning data regulations that will be brought forward.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. I was much encouraged by his suggestion earlier: it will be helpful if the Government provide guidelines for planning data operating systems at a very early stage. I realise that my amendment was covering a very small part of the subject under discussion, but it was merely for planning data. If the discussions with the Scottish Parliament produce something different, the question of disclosure will still be important.
I take my noble friend’s point. The point that I sought to make was that, of course, the outcome of our discussions with the Scottish Administration should be reflected in the eventual regulations and indeed in what is decided on the software. I hope that he will accept that our internal discussions with the Administration are part of Government-to-Government dealings and, in the normal course, should not be made public.
I was just about to cover very briefly a question that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised about the possible transposition of existing planning records on to a new digital system. I am advised that we will not require planning authorities to completely move all their data on to a new digital planning system. The intention is for this new system to look forward prospectively, if I can put it that way.
I thank the noble Earl very much for that information. The danger then is that, if an old software system containing planning applications from before the new software was introduced is incompatible and is therefore not transitioned across, it will not be readable by the new system for future use. That issue ought to have been considered.
That is a very relevant point. The point that has been made to us quite forcefully is that a lot of the software that is already in use is clunky and outdated, and that somehow a solution needs to be found. Clearly, the state in which systems are at the time any new system comes into play will vary from local authority to local authority. I will investigate that point further and, if I can elucidate the issue, I will gladly do so.
In his normal calm and reassuring way, the Minister pointed out on Clause 81 that there may be some leeway regarding the software that could be used. However, I will read what is in the Bill, so that the Minister can explain why there will be leeway. The power is
“to require use of approved planning data software in England”,
and the clause says:
“Planning data regulations may make provision restricting or preventing a relevant planning authority in England from using or creating, or having any right in relation to, planning data … which … is not approved in writing by the Secretary of State.”
How will that leeway come in if the Bill says that the software has to be approved in writing by the Secretary of State, and that a planning authority in England cannot use it if it is not?
I simply come back to the point I am trying to emphasise, which is that the watchword here is collaboration, between central government and local authorities. We want to get this right to get a solution that local authorities themselves are comfortable with and which is compatible, authority to authority. Although the noble Lord is correct to quote the Bill as he has, our intention is not to require approval for all planning data software.
That is impossible given how Clause 81 is written, because it makes provision for
“restricting or preventing a relevant planning authority”
if software is not approved by the Secretary of State. I understand the intention, but does the Minister agree that, as Clause 81 is written, what he wishes to see is actually not allowed by the Bill?
My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I thank the Minister for his customarily very detailed and helpful response. We talked briefly about the evidence base behind these clauses. It would be helpful, as he suggested, to have that provided. It would also be useful to know how up to date the information in that evidence base is.
Regarding Clause 81, will the Government support the changes they are proposing to local authorities to update their software with the resources to enable them to do so? It is pretty expensive, and we know that local authorities are not exactly flush at the moment. It will be important for there to be proper funding and resources for local authorities that need to change their software.
It was good to have the further clarification that the Minister gave to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, just now that the Secretary of State would not have to approve all software. The Minister said that this is the intention. Unfortunately, as has just been said, that intention is not clear at all in the wording. I suggest that he mentions to his department and to officials that the wording, both in the Bill and in the Explanatory Notes, could perhaps be revisited to make that really clear, because many local authorities are worrying a lot about the implications of that wording. Perhaps a slight change might resolve some of the concerns.
Finally, my noble friend Lady Wilcox has now left, but she asked me to point out very politely to noble Lords that, in May 2020, the Welsh Assembly became the Senedd and they are now the Welsh Government.
Clause 79 agreed.
Clauses 80 to 82 agreed.
Clause 83: Requirements to consult devolved administrations
Amendment 181 not moved.
Clause 83 agreed.
Amendment 182 not moved.
Clause 84 agreed.
Clause 85: Development plans: content
183: Clause 85, page 94, line 8, at end insert—
“(3A) After subsection (4) insert—“(4A) A local planning authority must review and update the development plan at least once every five years.””Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would require local authorities to review and update the development plan at least every five years.
My Lords, as we begin our discussions on the detail of the planning section of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, it is important to explain that, although our amendments necessarily cover the detail of the various clauses, there is huge concern in local government about some of the fundamental principles that underlie the proposed changes in the Bill. We absolutely must ensure that local plans, with the input of local people and democratically elected representatives, retain their primacy over anything that is drawn up centrally in Whitehall.
As currently written, whether intentional or not, the Bill would give primacy to the national department management policies, which is a very significant change indeed from the National Planning Policy Framework that currently exists and which, as we discussed earlier, is guidance rather than statue. We all recognise the need to have a framework to guide planning policy, but it should always give primacy and flexibility to local areas to ensure that planning meets their local needs, enables the voice of their local residents and businesses to be expressed through the planning system, and meets the test of local democratic accountability that is so important in shaping our places.
Noble Lords will have received significant numbers of briefings on this part of the Bill, as we have, from some of the most respected bodies in this field: the Local Government Association, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association, CPRE and the Better Planning Coalition. It is fair to say that most of them welcome the focus on planning in the Bill, although perhaps some of them, like me, would have preferred a dedicated planning Bill, which would have enabled an even greater focus on what needs to be done to make our planning system fit for the 21st century.
All these organisations focus on the essential element of planning, which is that it must be local and properly engage local people and businesses. The Royal Town Planning Institute, for example, says:
“If those living in newly devolved areas are going to truly benefit from the Bill they need to be given the planning freedoms to innovate and deliver planning policy that works best for them. We’ve seen that development management policies can be an effective tool to stimulate growth, provide energy, transport and housing decisions strategically, and experiment with different policy options to meet local needs.”
The Local Government Association expresses considerable concern about the ability to retain local autonomy and decision-making over plans in the light of the NDMP proposals in the Bill, saying that,
“in reality, local plans will be constrained in the event that they conflict with National Development Management Policies, in which case the latter will take precedence. We have previously sought an amendment to reverse this proposal so that local plans will take precedence in the event of conflict. This is critical to ensure that that one of the key principles of the planning reforms—‘a genuinely plan-led system’— is enshrined in the Bill.”
The LGA goes on to emphasise that local councils should have the flexibility to respond to local, complex and changing circumstances.
The CPRE has gone to the extent of seeking extensive legal advice on these issues. It strongly supports our Amendments 189, 190, 191 and 192, as well as an amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill. It has provided a detailed legal critique, particularly regarding Clause 86, which questions whether there is any legal scope for local development plans and NDMPs to vary from each other in any way, which, as it puts it, is likely to dissuade local authorities from seeking to set local policies for fear that they will be rendered obsolete by subsequent changes to NDMPs. It goes on to comment that according to Clause 86 as drafted, if there were to be a tension between a national policy and a local one, there could be no assessment of balance. The national policy would always win out, despite its not having been given any democratic scrutiny. The decision-makers’ scope to make a locally appropriate decision is therefore removed.
The CPRE is also concerned about the fate of neighbourhood plans under this proposed new system, as it says they could become out of date quickly if NDMPs change—for example, if there is a change of Secretary of State, which is not an unusual occurrence in recent times. For communities which have spent months or years working on their neighbourhood plan, this could destroy their trust in the planning system. The CPRE’s legal opinion from Landmark Chambers in November last year demonstrated that the Bill is a radical departure from the current system and would elevate NDMPs to the top of the planning hierarchy, a position which the Government at Second Reading stated was not the intention of the legislation. However, it appears from the way the Bill is currently drafted that it takes planning into uncharted waters which are both centralising and undemocratic.
We come to this important group of amendments with that backdrop, which is a very important context against which we should consider this section of the Bill. My Amendment 183, along with amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Lansley, address issues relating to how local plans are kept up to date. I have to say that planning officers may feel that they are already in a situation where local plans are permanently in preparation. That is because the many stages of plan preparation take a long time, as does the process of inspection, public inquiry and so on. All this means that by the time you have a full plan in place, you are already dealing with the review of that plan.
However, with the pace of change, rapid developments in the economy and the need to take account of demographics and changes in our communities and to tackle climate change, we must ensure that we simplify and enable the renewing and refreshing of development plans every five years. This would ensure that local authorities do not have to face the cliff edge of an enormous, complex and expensive planning exercise which would result in the longer intervals of up to 30 years given between plan reviews. This will require corresponding changes within the Planning Inspectorate, but they would need to be considered in relation to the Bill in any case.
Amendment 189, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, is a probing amendment to express our concern that Parliament might have no say in determining or scrutinising the national development management policies as the Bill is currently written. Clause 87 appears to give all the powers to the Secretary of State, saying that such policies are
“a policy … of the Secretary of State in relation to the development or use of land in England, or any part of England, which the Secretary of State by direction designates”.
This is an astonishing, centralising and undemocratic move. I doubt whether the current Secretary of State has ever even visited Stevenage, so just how he would be able to come to conclusions about the best planning policies for our area, or any area, from his office in Whitehall, I am completely unsure.
Amendment 190, also tabled by my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, aims to curb the centralising tendencies in Clause 87 by stating that policies in the NDMP should not impose absolute standards on local authorities as they make their local plans, and suggests instead that minimum standards are applied. Amendment 191 probes the powers given in Clause 87 to the Secretary of State unilaterally to amend or modify national management development policies. My Amendment 191B aims to deal with our concerns at the heart of the centralising of planning proposals as currently written into the Bill, by introducing requirements relating to sustainability assessments of NDMP policies and increasing the public consultation requirement and parliamentary scrutiny based on the processes in the Planning Act 2008 for setting out national planning policy statements.
It bears restating that it simply cannot be right that the Secretary of State can determine, revoke and amend planning policies that affect every single place in the country without appropriate public consultation or any parliamentary scrutiny.
Amendment 194 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock addresses transparency relating to the cost of this new NDMP process and would ensure that there is an annual statement of those costs. It also refers to questions which still need to be answered about how local authorities will be supported to make changes arising from NDMPs. Presumably if the Secretary of State can amend them at any time, at any time a diktat could come down and local authorities would have to deal with it. This amendment is about how they would be supported to do so.
I have referred previously to our concerns about the potential for the centralising proposals in the Bill to silence parliamentary and local voices and diminish the democracy of the planning process. My noble friend Lady Hayman’s Amendment 196 attempts to address this by asking for a strategy on public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of national management development policies to be published by the Government within 120 days of the Act being passed. We are interested to hear the Minister’s views on this.
My Amendment 216 would give local authorities the flexibility and freedom to act in accordance with the needs of their economy, local area and public consultation by removing the requirement that they comply with the NDMP where the national policies conflict with the interests of their areas. In a similar vein, Amendment 220 gives flexibility to local authorities to set their local plans according to local needs where these conflict with national development management policies.
The planning clauses of the Bill as currently written will override the stated intention of the Government, which is towards devolution. Centralising planning and preventing it taking account of the voices of local people and their democratically elected representatives, let alone giving ultimate power to the Secretary of State to determine planning policy with no parliamentary scrutiny, is taking it in entirely the wrong direction, back to the dark ages rather than forward to the kind of democracy where people can participate and engage in decision-making, where they feel they have had a say in place-making for the area in which they live and work, and develop the kind of trust in institutions entrusted with planning that will enable wider confidence in the system to level up and regenerate every part of the UK. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 184A and 187A in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Lansley, which ensure that planning decisions are taken in line with an up-to-date plan. An up-to-date plan is defined as one that is less than five years old. I am a strong believer in a plan-led system. With apologies for referring again to my chequered career in government, the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, which I took through the other place, introduced for the first time the primacy of the local plan. Up until then, it had equal weight with other material considerations. That position was confirmed in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
However, you cannot have a plan-led system unless you have a plan. Only 39% of local planning authorities have an up-to-date local plan. The number of plans adopted in 2021 and 2022 are 16 and 13 respectively, which are the lowest annual numbers since the inception of the NPPF back in 2012. The average between 2014 and 2021 was 35. More worryingly, since Christmas last year, 47 local plans have been delayed following the publication of the consultation document over Christmas, as local authorities hope to reduce their housing numbers. This is something I will develop when we get to the group beginning Amendment 207.
There is much in the Bill that I welcome. There are measures to streamline and simplify the plan-making process. I welcome the introduction of commencement orders, the uplift in planning fees and the simplification of the procedure for CPOs. But we need to do more to incentivise local planning authorities to produce up-to-date plans, as well as considering more effective sanctions for those that do not.
These two amendments, in effect, put into law the current guidance from the NPPF, which the Government are not proposing to change. Paragraph 15 of the 2021 NPPF says:
“The planning system should be genuinely plan-led. Succinct and up-to-date plans should provide a positive vision for the future of each area”.
The PPG chapter on plan-making says
“local planning authorities must review local plans … at least once every 5 years from their adoption date”.
That is exactly what Amendment 184A does, so I look forward to my noble friend saying that it has found favour with the Government.
On this subject, I ask the Government whether they have a target for a date by when 100% of England will be covered by local plans. The real problem at the moment is the uncertainty of the planning system. It is a real issue for local planning authorities, developers and local communities. Having up-to-date plans in place provides the certainty that everyone requires if the planning system is to be transparent, if it is to minimise risk and if local communities are to know what the future holds. By providing greater certainty through the requirement for development plans to be up to date, the Government can assist everyone to engage with the system and understand the outcomes. All the amendments seek is to ensure that the Bill reflects the guidance set out in the current NPPF in a paragraph which is not to be changed. The amendments seek to reinforce the fundamental underlying premise at the heart of the English planning system that it should be plan-led and give certainty to stakeholders, particularly local communities.
In passing, I ask whether the Government will now close a loophole in the present regime for five-year plans. Under the current system, local planning authorities can review their local plan under paragraph 33 of the NPPF and Regulation 10A of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012, whereby they assess whether the plan needs updating. That process is not subject to any public scrutiny. A local planning authority can simply document the process and resolve through the committee process that the plan does not require a formal update. No one can then challenge that decision and it resets the clock on the up-to-date status of the plan. This means that a local planning authority could underdeliver on housing requirements in the first five years of a plan, simply choose to review the plan using the process I have just outlined and determine that the plan did not need updating. As a result, it would not need to demonstrate a five-year housing supply for the next five years. That simply cannot be right, and I hope that the Government will close that loophole.
While I am on my feet, I will speak briefly to Amendment 221 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, which would enable the Secretary of State to include older people’s housing needs in the local plan. I pay tribute to the work the noble Lord, Lord Best, has done in this area for many years. One-third of local plans have no provision at all for older people, although some 3 million older people would like to move but cannot because of the lack of suitable accommodation. I will amplify the case in a moment, but I begin by asking about progress on the task force announced over a year ago.
On page 226 of the levelling up White Paper from 2 February last year, it says:
“A new Task Force will be launched shortly to look at ways better choice, quality and security of housing for older people can be provided”.
Over 10 months later, nothing had happened. On 22 December the consultation paper said:
“Alongside this, we are also launching a taskforce … This taskforce will explore how we can improve the choice of and access to housing options for older people”.
On 17 February 2023, the shadow Minister for Health and Social care in the other place, Liz Kendall, tabled a Written Question asking the Government when the task force will be launched. The Government’s response did not provide a date and said:
“Announcements will be made in the usual way.”
She then tabled a similar Parliamentary Question on 14 March, which I understand is awaiting a response.
This is not a happy story. I hope my noble friend can explain why there has been this extraordinary delay in the establishment of this important task force. It could address a wider range of issues than just planning; for example, the possible abolition of stamp duty for older people trading down and the role of Homes England in providing affordable homes for rent or shared ownership for older people. It could look at consumer protection issues for older people subject to high service charges. We need an urgent progress report on the task force.
I turn to the amendment. The December consultation paper had a specific question:
“Do you agree that we should amend existing paragraph 62 of the Framework to support the supply of specialist older people’s housing?”
The answer to this is yes. Research has shown that there is demand for some 30,000 units of retirement housing a year, but the current supply is only 8,000. The noble Lord, Lord Best, chaired an inquiry by the APPG on Housing and Care for Older People, Making Retirement Living Affordable. That underlined the need for more investment in the market, focusing on the potential for shared ownership.
The debate on housing often focuses on numbers, such as the 300,000 target. Equally important is whether the make-up of those numbers matches the needs of the population. As England’s demography changes, with the increase in smaller, older households, we are grappling with the legacy of a housing stock configured for a different age. The shortage of accommodation for last-time buyers or renters is impeding the optimum utilisation of a commodity in short supply. To rectify this, we need to focus new build on addressing this imbalance. Because new build is such a small percentage of the overall stock, it needs disproportionate emphasis in five-year plans. One option would be the development of a use class for specialist housing for older people with a specific target; say, 10% of all new units for older people. If one wanted to give this use class a boost, it could be exempt from CIL or Section 106 contributions.
In developing this policy, it is important that older people are not treated as a homogenous group with identical needs, no more than we would treat people with a disability as having identical needs. Planning for the elderly needs to be more granular and assess the various options—for example, retirement or sheltered homes; housing with care, sometimes called integrated retirement communities or supported housing; care homes; and nursing homes—looking at the configurations in each planning area. People do not want to have to move to find a suitable home to retire to.
Then there is the wider benefit if a greater supply of retirement housing can be achieved: significant health and well-being benefits for older people, reduced public spending on health and social care, and an increase in the vibrancy of the second-hand market, freeing up more opportunities for first-time buyers to enter the market. The Bill provides a real opportunity to rectify this imbalance in the nature of our housing stock, and we should take it.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.31 pm.